A copyright owner has the rights to do the following things, under U.S. copyright law:
A copyright owner can give away some or all of those rights to other people or entities, by transferring ownership or granting licenses. Ownership or license rights can be shared by any number of people or entities.
The copyright rights outlined above only apply to works that fit into one of these eight categories: 17 U.S.C. § 102(a)
Works that fit into one of the categories above must also be “fixed in a tangible medium of expression”—that is, saved in some form—in order to qualify for copyright protection. Almost anything counts as “fixed”—a drawing on a chalkboard or whiteboard, or a file saved in a computer’s memory would qualify. However, unfixed works such as improvisational speeches or music aren’t protected by copyright.
A work also must include original creative expression to qualify for protection. The amount of originality required is relatively low, but just “sweat of the brow” is not enough. For example, writing out an alphabetical list of all Nobel Prize winners may take work, but it doesn’t really contain any original expression. By contrast, if you add annotations and commentary to that list, you could own a copyright in the annotations and commentary.
Copyright does not apply to: 17 U.S.C. § 102(b)
More info on what copyright doesn’t do, from the U.S. Copyright Office:
Creators today don’t have to do anything to get copyright in the content they create. Any work that qualifies is automatically protected by copyright from the moment it is first "fixed in a tangible medium of expression" - recorded in some physical or digital format. Publication is not a requirement for copyright protection, and even formal registration is purely optional. There is also no requirement to include a copyright notice, date, the “circled c” © symbol, or any other information on the work in order to own a copyright.
Copyrights can be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office by any legal owner, at any time during the term of copyright protection. There is a nominal fee for registration, and a copy of the work must be deposited with the Copyright Office. Registration is most useful for commercial works and for copyright owners who are likely to pursue legal action against infringement. More information is available in the Copyright Office FAQ.
For works created today, copyright protection starts automatically as soon as a work is created, and lasts for 70 years after the death of the creator.
Because copyright terms have been changed several times, the term lengths for older works vary widely, based on a large number of factors.
The DMCA updated Title 17 of the US Code to address copyrighted works available in digital formats. This law strengthened the ability of copyright holders to control and restrict access to their work in digital formats, and expanded the ability of libraries to make copies of print resources available for interlibrary loan and for preservation purposes.
Adapted and used under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license from the University of Minnesota Libraries. Any original content produced by the Grand Valley State University Libraries is released under an identical Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license.
This website presents information about copyright law. The University Libraries make every effort to assure the accuracy of this information but do not offer it as counsel or legal advice. Consult an attorney for advice concerning your specific situation.