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 or, alternately, licenses it for those uses.
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 a quick overview of copyright, consult Circular 1, Copyright Basics.
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 Lynda.com. (Log in using your W&M credentials.)
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.
Please also be familiar with the W&M Policy and Guidelines for the Use of Copyrighted Works, which discusses the use of others' content by the W&M university community.
Copyright law covers original works that are fixed in a tangible form. The kinds of work that copyright covers includes:
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.
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)