Skip to Main Content


Learn more about how W&M libraries can help you with publication rights, placement, licensing and more.


What is copyright?

Copyright is a form of property which is derived from The U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution: "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by Securing for Limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries" and which protects original works of authorship. The author owns the work she or she creates; and the author has the sole right to copy, distribute, adapt, display, or perform the work (unless the author gives the right to someone else). Copyright exists from the moment the work becomes a fixed medium of expression (written, recorded, performed, etc). No formal registration is required. As of 1989, the copyright symbol is no longer needed nor is formal registration with the Library of Congress to retain rights to copyrighted works.

For details on fair use of copyrighted content, visit our Fair Use page.

You might also check out a 4 minute video on copyright and fair use on (Log in using your W&M credentials.)

Copyright at W&M

Copyright ownership at W&M

Works created by William & Mary faculty, staff, and students are governed by the Intellectual Property Policy. William & Mary assigns most copyrights to faculty, staff, and student creators as defined by the policy. This includes content in W&M's institutional repository, W&M ScholarWorks, which content is owned by the authors who submitted it. 

Regarding works for which you have ownership, you have the option to assign licensing terms using free licenses from the not-for-profit Creative Commons. These licenses are designated by W&M authors for content going into W&M ScholarWorks.

For additional information on the use of copyrighted materials, review William & Mary's Policy and Guidelines for the Use of Copyrighted Works

What does copyright cover?

What does copyright cover?

Copyright law covers original works that are fixed in a tangible form. The kinds of work that copyright covers includes:

  • literary works;
  • musical works, including any accompanying words;
  • dramatic works, including any accompanying music;
  • pantomimes and choreographic works;
  • pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works;
  • motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
  • sound recordings; and
  • architectural works.

Copyright law does not cover:

  • Facts
  • Works produced by the U.S. Federal Government
  • Titles and short phrases (although these may be able to be trademarked)
  • Ideas - copyright doesn't cover the ideas you express in your scholarship or creative works, just your expression of those ideas!

How long does copyright last?

How long does copyright last?

In the United States, copyright of works made today lasts for 70 years after the death of the creator. Copyright of works published by corporate authors lasts 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever expires first.

However, U.S. Copyright law has changed many times in the last 150 years, so there isn't one rule you can apply for works created since 1923. You can refer to this helpful chart from Cornell University Library or this Digital Copyright Slider from the American Library Association to determine the copyright status of works based on year of publication.


Recent Twitter news on copyright

Recent copyright news

Additional copyright resources

Additional copyright resources

Campus Copyright Rights and Responsibilities: A Basic Guide to Policy Considerations (Association of American Universities et al)

Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries (Association of Research Libraries)

Copyright & Fair Use (Stanford University Libraries)

Know Your Copy Rights: What You Can Do  (Association of Research Libraries)

Digital Scholarship Librarian

Profile Photo
Rosie Liljenquist
(757) 221-1091