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Creative Commons

Getting to Know Copyright

International Scope


International CopyrightThe coverage of copyright in this guide points primarily to United States law. However, the content includes references to international treaties, concepts, and understandings. Please keep in mind that there is no true “international copyright law,” countries have specific definitions of copyright, what content is eligible for protection, durations of copyright, as well as penalties for infringement.  This map indicates nations that have ratified (dark grey) the Berne Convention as of 2012, which has set some international minimum standards.

This image was derived from Berne Convention Signatories, CC BY-SA 3.0 by Mao / Color altered from the original.

Copyright Defined

Decorative image of copyright symbol

Copyright (or author’s right) is a legal term used to describe the rights that creators have over their literary and artistic works.

Literally meaning the right to copy.

Exclusive Rights

Decorative image of copyright symbol Copyright grants exclusive rights for authors to:

Reproduce The work

Perform The work

Prepare Derivative works

Display The work

Distribute Works or copies

Grant Permission

Copyright protects the expression of ideas --- not the ideas themselves. Copyright protects pictures, graphics, sculptures, literature, music, drama, motion pictures, audiovisuals, sound recordings, architecture, choreography, among other creative works. Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17.) The following are not eligible for protection in the United States: facts, ideas, recipes, procedures, principles, titles, names, slogans, familiar symbols.


Decorative image of copyright symbol Copyright is automatically assigned when an expression is fixed in a tangible medium. 

A work is “fixed” in a tangible medium of expression when its embodiment in a copy or phonorecord, by or under the authority of the author, is sufficiently permanent or stable to permit it to be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated for a period of more than transitory duration.

While applying a notice has not been required in the United States since March 1, 1989, a creator may choose to register with the Copyright Office at any time. This may offer additional protections for the copyright holder, and in some countries, this step is mandatory. Learn more (opens a pdf file) about United States parameters.

Duration of Copyright

Copyright After January 1, 1978 generally the duration of copyright is:

Life of the author +70  Years.

95 years after an anonymous publication or 120 years after its creation, whichever is sooner.

The term of a copyright duration depends on several factors, including date of publication and status of publication. To determine the duration for works published prior to 1978, consult:

Creative Commons Licenses and Copyright

Creative Commons legal tools empower creators to grant permission to their creative work within the parameters of copyright law. The licenses last as long as applicable copyright is in place.

Public Domain

Public Domain

Works do not stay protected forever. Works may enter the public domain in a variety of ways:


The term of copyright expires.


In the past, a rights holder might have failed to register or renew.


The rights holder dedicates the work to the public domain.


Works were not eligible for copyright protection.


Intellectual Property

Intellectual Property

There are different types of intellectual property that are subject to different legal protections: patent, trademark, copyright.

“A trademark is generally a word, phrase, symbol, or design, or a combination thereof, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others… Trademark rights may be used to prevent others from using a confusingly similar mark, but not to prevent others from making the same goods or from selling the same goods or services under a clearly different mark.” 

US Trademark Basics

TESS (Trademark Electronic Search System)

A patent is “the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling” the invention in the United States or “importing” the invention into the United States. What is granted is not the right to make, use, offer for sale, sell or import, but the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, selling or importing the invention.” Learn more. 




Creative works


Goods or services



Type of work

Arts, Music, Literature

Word(s), symbol, design



Authors or creators

Individual, corporation, legal entity Inventor
General Duration

Life + 50 or 70 years

10 years + renew

20 years