Copyright, Trademarks, Patents and the Public Domain: Copyright


United States copyright law (Title 17, U.S. Code § 101) protects the rights the creators of works. The owner of copyright has the exclusive right to do and to authorize the following:

  • reproduce the work
  • prepare derivative works based upon the work
  • distribute copies of the work to the public by sale or transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending
  • prohibit other persons from using the work without permission
  • perform or display the work publicly

Copyright protection covers both published and unpublished works as well as out-of-print materials. 

Facts, ideas, procedures, processes, systems, concepts, principles, or discoveries cannot be copyrighted, though some can be protected by patent or trade-secret laws. 

Copyright limits, but does not prevent the use of work for teaching and research, and for comment and reportage. 

Copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years. If there is more than one author, copyright protection lasts for the life of the last author's death plus 70 years. 

How to Register a Copyright 

  •  You can register a copyright online or print copyright forms at the Copyright Office. 

How to Search a Copyright

  • The records of the Copyright Office are open for searching by the public. Records from 1978 forward can be searched on the copyright office web site. The Copyright Office will search its records for a fee. 
  • The Stanford Copyright Renewal Database makes searchable the copyright renewal records for books published in the US between 1923 and 1963.
  • WATCH is one of the largest databases of copyright holders in the world. 

How to Get Permission 

Use this slider chart to determine whether the material you'd like to use is covered by US copyright laws. If it is: 

  • Contact the publisher for permission to use copyrighted material. The Copyright Clearance Center provides the most complete and convenient access to copyright permission for millions of publications worldwide.
  • Cornell University has created a Copyright Term chart that indicates when copyrighted works enter the public domain.
  • Stanford University sponsors a Copyright and Fair Use database.
  • For media copyright, see the American University of Social Media's Best Practices of Fair Use database. 


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