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Provides an overview of copyright basics, fair use, permission requests, and using copyrighted material for teaching (face-to-face and online).

In this Guide

This guide provides information and resources on copyright and how it relates to your research, teaching, publishing and other academic activities. It helps with understanding:

copyright logo

Everyone in the Mines community makes use of works authored by others and/or is an author themselves. Copyright defines your control over how others use your work, offers protection of your rights, and also defines restrictions on use of others' work.

This guide page is an educational tool for faculty, staff and students at Colorado School of Mines and does NOT constitute legal advise or an interpretation of the law. Employees of the Colorado School of Mines Library cannot provide legal advise for copyright dispute. Please contact the Scholarly Communications Librarian for any questions.

What is Copyright?

Copyright is a legal form of protection "for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression.Copyright covers both published and unpublished works" (U.S. Copyright Office - FAQ). Copyright applies to more than just the printed word--it protects literary, musical, dramatic, choreographic, pictorial, sculptural, audiovisual, and architectural works.Web pages, sound recordings, and software etc. are protected too.

Section 106 of the 1976 U.S.

Copyright Act gives the owner of copyright the following exclusive rights: Copyright Basics _ US Copyright Office

  • To reproduce the work (e.g. to make copies)
  • To prepare derivative works 
  • To distribute copies publicly
  • To perform the work publicly 
  • To display or perform the work publicly

These rights are subject to exceptions and limitations, such as "fair use", which allow limited uses of works without the permission of the copyright holder.

What is NOT protected by copyright?

  • facts or ideas
  • titles, names, short phrases, or slogans
  • procedures, methods, systems or processes
  • works of the United States government
  • works that have passed into the public domain

FAQs on Copyright

Who owns the copyright to a work?               

Mostly, the author or creator of the work is the copyright holder. Here are a few common exceptions.

  •  Copyright transfer - The authors or creators have transferred the rights to someone else through a written agreement, e.g. a publishing agreement with publishers.
  •  "Work for hire" - if the work is created as a part of one's employment, the employer is the copyright holder. At Mines and many other universities, faculty publications and other traditional works of scholarship are typically NOT considered to be works for hire. (See Mines policy: Intellectual Property Policy [BOT] (also see Faculty Handbook)  )
  • Joint holders - if two or more people create a work together, they are joint holders of the copyright and share equal rights to exercise and enforce the copyright.


How do works get copyrighted?                    

Under the current U.S. Copyright Law, works are protected by copyright automatically upon creation. Authors or creators are NOT required to register the work with the U.S. Copyright Office, put a copyright notice, or to publish the work. 

Registering your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office establishes a public record of the copyright claim and may be helpful if an infringement suit should happen. But it's not required for copyright protection. (see FAQs from U.S. Copyright Office). Deposit of copies with the Copyright Office for use by the Library of Congress is a separate requirement from registration. (see Circular 7b and Circular 7d from U.S. Copyright Office)

Adding a copyright notice (e.g. "©2017 [name]. For permissions and questions contact [address/email]") may help provide a way for people to contact you, especially if you make your work publicly available. 


How long does copyright last?                     

In the U.S., generally, for works created after January 1, 1978, copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years. For anonymous works or works for hire, the copyright term is 95 years from their publication or 120 years from their creation, whichever is shorter. 

For works created before 1978, terms can vary depending on complicated factors. (See FAQs from US Copyright Office)

After the copyright protection term expires, works enter the public domain meaning that anyone is free to reproduce, distribute, or otherwise re-use the work.

How can I tell if a work is still under copyright protection?              

Depending on the creation time, the copyright terms and requirements for copyright notice and registration are different. For example, before 1978, U.S. law required that works be published with a notice of copyright to receive protection.

Read more about copyright duration: Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States, Peter Hirtle, Cornell University.

As a general rule, works registered or published in the U.S. before 1923 are in the public domain.


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This guide is intended for informational and educational purpose and does NOT constitute legal advise or an interpretation of the law. If you have specific legal questions pertaining to Colorado School of Mines, please contact the Legal Services at Mines.

Intellectual Property

Intellectual property (IP) usually refers to properties that do not have a physical existence. There are several forms of IP, including:

  • Patent
  • Copyright
  • Trade Secret
  • Trademark

See the USPTO IP Policy page for policies on the four different fields in the U.S.