Mohave Community College Libraries

What is Copyright?

Copyright is a form of legal protection that gives the author (creator) of an original work a degree of control over the reproduction and distribution of their work. Copyright protection is automatic under current U.S. Law and begins the instant an "original work of authorship is fixed in a tangible medium of expression."

This protection includes both published and unpublished works. Works do not have to be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office to have copyright protection.

Under the Copyright Act, the owners of copyright have the following exclusive rights:

  • Reproduce the work in full or part
  • Create derivatives of their work based on the original
  • Distribute copies of their work
  • Perform a work publicly 
  • Publicly display their work

These "exclusive rights" are subject to some limitations and exemptions, the doctrine of Fair Use being the best example (see page on Fair Use Guidelines).



Can be Copyrighted  Can not be Copyrighted
Literary works Works not in a "fixed" tangible form
Musical works and lyrics

Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes,

principles, or discoveries

Dramatic works Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans
Choreographic works Familiar symbols or designs
Motion picture and other audio/visual works Ingredients of contents (recipes)
Sound recordings.

Spontaneous works not in a tangible form

(speeches, musical works, or choreographs)


How long does Copyright protection of a work last?

Copyright protection does not last forever, but when the  protection expires depends on many factors:

  •  For works created after January 1, 1978, copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years. 
  • For an anonymous work, a pseudonymous work, or a work made for hire, the copyright endures for a term of 95 years from the year of its first publication or a term of 120 years from the year of its creation, whichever expires first.
  • For works first published prior to 1978, the term will vary depending on several factors.

Sooner or later, a copyrighted work will pass into the Public Domain (until that time, you need permission to use any work under copyright)

For more information on how to determine if a work is in the Public Domain or under Copyright, please see the " Creative Commons & Public Domain" page.