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Copyright - Simplified
Most works are protected by copyright
Almost all creative and intellectual work is protected by copyright and enjoys copyright protection. Remember that facts, ideas, and processes are not subject to copyright.
Copyright is automatic
Creative and intellectual works do not have to have a copyright notice posted or be registered in any way in order to receive copyright protection. This means that everything from a novel to a napkin doodle has full and automatic copyright protections.
Copyright lasts a VERY long time...
Works are protected for the life of the author, plus seventy years. If a work was “made for hire [pdf]” it is protected for 95 years from publication or 120 years from the creation of the work (whichever is less). The rules are different for works made before 1978 and are incredibly complicated. Try this copyright slider from the Copyright Advisory Network when in doubt.
...but it doesn't last forever
Works with expired copyright pass into the public domain and are available to be used in whatever way you’d like. Works created by the US government (and some states), facts, ideas, and processes are not protected by copyright.
A good general rule: When in doubt, assume that a work is under copyright and seek appropriate permissions.
For more information on Copyright, Fair Use, and the TEACH Act, check out our copyright research guide.
Creative Commons License Explanation
More information about these, and other, licenses is available at Creative Commons.
Creative Commons licensing allows information creators to openly share their work (and others to reuse it), as long as the use of that information complies with the selected license.
Find out more at creativecommons.org