Your Copyright

Works Are Copyrighted Automatically

  • Copyright is limited to works of original authorship; the work must have some element of the author's creativity or organization -- not just data, but a particular expression, arrangement or interpretation of data.
  • A work is copyrighted as soon as it is written, recorded, saved or posted online. 
  • The copyright owner has the exclusive right to make copies, distribute, share and sell those copies as well as make derivative works and distribute, share and sell those derivative works. 
  • The copyright owner also has the exclusive right to transfer those rights. This can be done either in part and temporarily via a license, or altogether by selling or giving away the copyright. 
  • A work doesn't have to be published to be copyrighted.
  • A work doesn't have to be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office or the Library of Congress to be copyrighted.
  • There is no such thing as copyrighting a work by mailing a copy to yourself. 
  • A work does not need to have a copyright notice or symbol on it to be copyrighted.

Registering Your Copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office

Even though copyright happens automatically, you should register the copyright to anything that you want to be able to defend against infringement in court. Ideally, you should register your copyright within three months of publishing, posting or distributing the work. You only need to register your copyright once; however, some authors choose to re-register the work when it is published, or published in a new edition

  • The U.S. Copyright Office charges $45 to register a copyright online. It costs more if you submit your paperwork by mail.
  • You will need to complete a form and submit one or more copies. Which form and how many copies varies with the type of work. Details are at Registration Procedures.
  • You will receive a certificate or notification that you need to submit more information, or notification that your application has been rejected.
  • Your copy or copies will be deposited with the Library of Congress.
  • You also can submit your registered copyright to the U.S. Customs Service, which will prevent the importation of infringing copies.

The Copyright Notice

  • Copyright notices are not required for unpublished works and have not been required for published works since 1989.
  • A copyright notice prominently displayed on all copies of your work is a convenience for your readers and will be helpful if you ever have to defend your copyright against infringement in court.
  • The standard form for a copyright notice is the © symbol, followed by the date of first creation or publication and the name of the copyright holder, i.e., © 2011 Empire State College.

Does a work's copyright belong to you or to the college? 

"Generally the members of the staff of the University shall retain all rights to copyright and publish written works produced by them. However, in cases where persons are employed or directed within the scope of their employment to produce specific works subject to copyright the University shall have the right to publish such work without copyright or to copyright it in its own name. The copyright will also be subject to any contractual arrangements by the University for work in the course of which the writing was done." - Intellectual Property, Software & Distance Learning: SUNY Policy and UUP Recommendations