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Copyright Basics

What is Copyright?

Copyright is a form of legal protection that allows authors and other creators to control their original, creative work.  The work must be "fixed in a tangible medium of expression" - written on a piece of paper, saved on a computer hard drive, or recorded on an audio or video tape.  Copyright occurs automatically at the creation of a new work.  In general, copyright holders have the exclusive right to do, and to authorize others to do, the following:

  • Reproduce the work in whole or in part;
  • Prepare derivative works, such as translations, dramatizations, and musical arrangements;
  • Distribute copies of the work by sale, gift, rental, or loan;
  • Publicly perform the work;
  • Publicly display the work.

What is protected by copyright?

Copyright protects literary, musical, dramatic, choreographic, pictorial, graphic, sculptural, audiovisual, and architectural works. 

Is copyright forever?

For works created since March 1, 1989, copyright lasts from the moment a work is created until 70 years after the death of the author, except for works produced by a company/employer in which case the copyright lasts 120 years from the date of creation.  Works created before this date can have various copyright protection. The Digital Copyright Slider can be used to help define how long the protection of an item may last.