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Copyright | OER: Copyright Basics

Copyright Resources

Copyright FAQs

What is copyright?

Copyright is a bundle of rights that belongs exclusively to the creator.  As codified in 17 US Code, the creator of a work is the only person who can 

  • make copies of the work,
  • distribute copies of the work,
  • create derivative works (ex: translations, remixes, revisions), and
  • publicly perform or display the work

or grant others permission to do so.

What can be copyrighted?

Copyright exists in any original work as soon as it is fixed in a tangible form.  Copyrightable works include:

What cannot be copyrighted?

The following cannot be copyrighted, but may be covered by other intellectual property systems such as trademarks or patents:

  • Ideas (While the expression of an idea can be copyrighted, the idea itself cannot.  For example the idea of prime numbers is not copyrightable, but a work that describes the concept, gives examples or applications is copyrightable.)
  • Facts
  • Slogans and short phrases
  • Names and titles 
  • Useful objects
  • Works by the U.S. federal government

How long does copyright last?

Currently, for works published in the United States, the length of the copyright term is life of the author plus 70 years, and unpublished works are protected for 120 years from the date of their creation.

US copyright law has changed many times over the years.  The length of a copyright term depends on what laws were in force at the time of creation of the work.  The Digital Copyright Slider can help you determine if a work is still protected by copyright. 

About This Guide

This guide discusses the related topics of copyright, open educational resources, authors' rights, open access, and Creative Commons.  If you have specific questions relating to these topics, contact Christin Wixson, Scholarly Communication Librarian.  Ask me about

  • copyright
  • open educational resources
  • where to publish
  • open access
  • authors' rights
  • public domain
  • journal & article impact metrics
  • identifying "predatory" journals


Creative Commons License
Copyright Guide by Christin Wixson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.