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Copyright for Educators

Please check to see if the items you're using are considered fair use.

Copyright Basics

Most works are protected by copyright
Almost all creative and intellectual work is protected by copyright. Remember that facts are not subject to copyright.

Copyright is automatic
Works do not have to have copyright notice posted or be registered in any way in order to be protected by copyright. This means that everything from a novel to a napkin doodle has full and automatic copyright protections.

Copyright lasts a long time...
Works are protected for the life of the author, plus seventy years. If a work was “made for hire” 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 incredibly complicated. Visit the Copyright Advisory Network for resources on understanding and learning about copyright.

...but not forever
Works with expired copyright pass into the public domain and are available to be used in whatever way you’d like. Also not protected by copyright are works created by the US government (and some states), facts, ideas, and methods.

Eligible for Copyright Protection

The following types of content are eligible for copyright protection, whether published or unpublished, provided that the content is recorded in a "tangible medium of expression" (U.S. Copyright Office).

  • Literary or written works

  • Musical works and accompanying lyrics

  • Dramatic works and accompanying music

  • Dance and choreographic works

  • Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works

  • Motion pictures and other audiovisual works

  • Sound recordings

  • Architectural works

Not Eligible for Copyright Protection

Examples of materials not eligible for copyright protection include intangible content, content protected by other laws, or content in the public domain.

  • Works not fixed in tangible format, such as interpretive dance
  • Titles and slogans (which may instead be protected by a Patent or Trademark)
  • Published directory listings
  • Lists of ingredients or contents
  • Natural laws, such as the Periodical Table of Elements
  • Works in the Public Domain, such as works published by the U.S. Government

Contact and Thank you

If you have copyright questions, please ask Kim Olson-Kopp for help,, 608-796-3268.


We would like to thank the Aurora Community College for allowing us to use of their copyright guide as a basis for this guide.