What is a copyright?

A copyright is the right to prevent others from copying, distributing, using, and selling an author’s “Work”, where the Work is defined as an original work of authorship fixed on a tangible medium of expression.

How long does a copyright last?

There is a complex set of rules for the length of a copyright for works created before 1978.  For all new works, created after January 1, 1978, the copyright lasts through the life of the author plus 70 years.  If the authors is not a person, the period is  95 years from the date of publication or 120 years from the date of creation.

When do the rights under copyright begin?

Immediately upon creation of the work.  It does not matter whether the work is registered or not.

Should I register my work? If so why?

Although your rights to the work arise upon its creation, you will need to be registered in order to be able to seek statutory damages and to bring an action in court.  In addition, the registration process is simple and inexpensive.  For more information you should visit the copyright office’s website at

How and when should I use the copyright symbols on my work?

You should always, to the extent possible, included a copyright notice on the work.  The copyright notice should include the copyright symbol © (or the word Copyright or Cop.) followed by the year of creation and the name of the author.  For example © 2015 John Smith.

I have asked a contractor to create a particular book, picture, painting, or other work for me, do I automatically own the copyright to that work?

No, unless there is a written agreement that assigns the copyright to you.

My employees develop software code, pamphlets, and other materials as part of their job duties and description, do they have any rights to their work?

No.  Such assignments are considered a “work-made-for-hire” and the company is considered to be the “author” under the law.

Does the “work-for-hire” doctrine apply to any non-employees.

Yes.  There is a limited list of types of works that are considered works-made-for-hire by non-employees.  In order to qualify, the following requirements must be met:

  • The work must be one of the protected works: LIST THE WORKS
  • There must be an agreement signed by BOTH parties stating that the work is a “work-made-for-hire.”  The agreement must be executed BEFORE the contractor begins to work on the project.