Copyright Frequently Asked Questions

How long does a copyright last?

A copyright’s duration is the life of the author plus 70 years, or for works made for hire (owned by the company, not the individual inventor), 95 years from publication or 125 years from creation, whichever is shorter. After that time, the material is in the public domain and anyone may freely use it.

Can I legally use an excerpt of a book or article without permission?

You must consider the amount used. If it is not a substantial portion of the copyrighted work, you may be able to use it, however it is a good idea to cite the source.

I want to make some of my company’s information available on the Internet. Can content found on the Internet be considered in the public domain and therefore not copyright-protected?

No. The legal concept of the public domain as it applies to copyright law should not be confused with the fact that a work may be publicly available, i.e. information found in books, periodicals, or on the Internet. The public domain comprises all those works that are either no longer protected by copyright or never were. Any content in a non-digital form that is protected by copyright also will be protected in digital form. For example, print books that are protected by copyright are also protected as electronic books. Analog musical recordings protected by copyright are also protected as digital musical recordings. A letter in print is protected by copyright as is an e-mail letter (both generally owned by the author of that letter or e-mail). Websites may be protected by copyright as a single work. The many different embedded works on that same website may also be individually protected by copyright.

I’ve heard about a “poor man’s copyright.” What is it?

The practice of sending a copy of your own work to yourself is sometimes called a “poor man’s copyright.” There are no provisions in copyright law regarding any such type of protection, and it is not a substitute for registration.

Is my copyright good in other countries?

The United States has copyright relations with most countries throughout the world, and as a result of these agreements, honor each other’s citizens’ copyrights. However, the United States does not have such copyright relationships with every country. For a listing of countries and the nature of their copyright relations with the United States please either contact us or view the U.S. Copyright Office for Circular 38a, International Copyright Relations of the United States.

Who owns the copyright to something I wrote at work, me or my company?

Although the general rule is that the person who creates the work is its author, there is an exception to that principle: the exception is a “work made for hire.” A work made for hire is a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment, or a work specially ordered or commissioned from an independent contractor. When something qualifies as a work made for hire, the employer, or commissioning party, is considered to be the author.

If I live in England, can I register my works with the U.S. Copyright Office?

Any work that is protected by U.S. copyright law can be registered. This includes many works of foreign origin. All works that are unpublished, regardless of the nationality of the author, are protected in the United States. Works that are first published in the United States or in a country with which we have a copyright treaty (see Circular 38a for the status of specific countries), or that are created by a citizen or legal resident of a country with which we have a copyright treaty, are protected and may therefore be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office.