What does copyright cover?
Copyright covers "original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression."
Those notes you scribbled on a napkin at the coffee shop are a fixed tangible medium of expression.
Copyright protection is automatic from the moment of creation.
Is a work copyrighted if it doesn't have the copyright symbol?
Yes, a creative work is copyrighted from the moment it is "fixed" in any "tangible medium of expression." The copyright symbol used to be required, but as of the signing of the Berne Convention in 1988, the symbol is no longer required.
(Copyright Office Circular 3)
Is a work copyrighted if it is not registered with the Copyright Office in Washington, D.C.?
Creators and authors are not required to register their work. Copyright still takes effect without it. However, if a work is registered, authors are entitled to certain remedies in case of infringement that they would not otherwise be entitled to.
What kinds of works are covered by copyright?
Not covered: ideas, procedures, processes, systems, methods of operation, concepts, principles, discoveries, recipes
(Copyright Law of the US)
What is the term (length) of copyright?
The term of copyright is life of the author plus 70 years.
In situations where a work is commissioned or created by an employee "within the scope of employment," the term for a "work for hire" is "95 years from the date of publication or 120 years from the date of creation." (Copyright Office Circular 9)
for determining copyright status
What are the exclusive rights of a copyright holder?
Is my dissertation or thesis copyrighted?
Yes, automatically, and registration is not required with the Copyright Office. There are, however, advantages to registering if you wish to be able to seek damages in the case of infringement.
What does phonorecord mean today?
Phonorecords are "material objects in which sounds, other than those accompanying a motion picture or other audiovisual work, are fixed by any method now known or later developed, and from which the sounds can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device. The term “phonorecords” includes the material object in which the sounds are first fixed. (Copyright Law Section 101 Definitions)
A work in the public domain is not protected by copyright. You are free to copy the entire work. In the United States, works published before 1924 (as of Jan. 1, 2019) are in the public domain.
Are government documents in the public domain?
The majority of documents published by the federal government are in the public domain. There are some exceptions. The federal government outsources some of its research and publications to private publishers. Those works may be copyrighted. Check the specific document.
Many state and county publications may be copyrighted; they are not necessarily in the public domain.
How do I know if a work after 1923 is in the public domain?
This is a difficult question with no quick answer. The copyright for some works published prior to the 1976 law may not have been renewed. Lolly Gasaway's chart shows the changes in copyright terms from 1923 forward. The Copyright Office maintains a database of copyright registrations back to 1978. The Copyright Office also publishes a circular How to Investigate the Copyright Status of a Work. Prior to 1978, the Copyright Office can do a manual search of it records for a fee.
A work can also be an "orphan work" meaning that it may still be under copyright, yet no rights holder can be found.
To explore further...