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Office of General Counsel


What is a copyright?

trees in winter on campus

A copyright is a form of protection provided by federal law (Title 17 U.S.C.§101 et seq.).  The protection is provided to the creators of original work.

Copyright protection is generally afforded to written works; musical works; dramatic works; choreographic works; pictorial, graphic and sculptural works; audiovisual works; sound recordings; architectural designs; and computer software programs. Protection is provided for both published and unpublished works (see http://copyright.govhelp/faq/faq-general.html#what ).

The “bundle of rights” provided to the copyright holder includes:

  • The right to reproduce the work;
  • The right to prepare derivative works;
  • The right to distribute copies of the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by lease or license;
  • The right to display the copyrighted work publicly;
  • In the case of sound recordings, the right to perform the work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission (see www.copyright.govcircs/circ01.pdf ).

Several categories of works are generally not eligible for federal copyright protection.  These include:

  • Works not fixed in a tangible form of expression;
  • Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans, familiar symbols or designs, typographic lettering or coloring, mere listings of ingredients or contents;
  • Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries or devices distinguished from a description, explanation or illustration;
  • Works consisting entirely of information or facts that are common knowledge and have no original authorship (example: calendars, height and weight charts, and lists or tables taken from public documents or other common sources (see www.copyright.govcircs/circ01.pdf ).

Who holds the copyright to a work?

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Generally, the person (or persons) who creates a work is the holder of the copyright to that work. There are some exceptions to this rule:

  • If a person creates the work within the scope of his or her employment, the employer holds the copyright.
  • If the work was produced by an independent contractor and it qualifies as a “work made for hire,” then the copyright is owned by the person or entity for which the work was produced.
  • If the creator has sold the entire copyright, the entity or person who purchased the copyright becomes the copyright owner (see www.copyright.govcircs/circ01.pdf ).

In terms of works submitted to periodicals or other collective works, copyright in each separate contribution to a periodical or other collective work is distinct from copyright in the collective work as a whole and vests initially with the author of the contribution (see www.copyright.govcircs/circ01.pdf ).

How long does the copyright last?

Copyright protection does not last forever.  The term of copyright for a particular work depends on several factors, including whether it has been published, and, if so, the date of first publication. As a general rule, for works created after January 1, 1978, copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years.  For an anonymous work, a pseudonymous work, or a work made for hire, the copyright endures for a term of 95 years from the year of its first publication or a term of 120 years from the year of its creation, whichever expires first.  For works first published prior to 1978, the term will vary depending on several factors.  For more information, see http://copyright.govhelp/faq/faq-duration.html#duration .

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Do I need to register my work for it to be protected by copyright?

No, your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form.  The copyright symbol © can be utilized on any work that is created in fixed form. While not required, the U.S. Copyright Office recommends registration. Registered works, unlike unregistered works, may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney's fees in successful litigation.  Finally, if registration occurs within 5 years of publication, it is considered prima facie evidence in a court of law.  A work may be registered with the Copyright Office by going online at or by the contacting the U.S. Copyright Office at (202) 707-3000. For more information, see http://copyright.govhelp/faq/faq-general.html#mywork .

What is the “fair use” exception to copyright?

Fair use under U.S. Copyright law permits a limited use of portions of copyrighted work without the permission of the copyright holder.  The permissible uses include criticism, comment, teaching, scholarship, research, and news reporting.  There are four basic factors which must be considered when determining whether an unauthorized use constitutes “fair use”:   

  • The purpose and character of the use, including whether the use is commercial or for non-profit educational purposes;
  • The nature of the copyrighted work;
  • The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole;
  • The effect of the use on the potential market for or the value of the work.

No one factor determines whether a use is fair.  All the factors must be considered and differing weight may be given to the various factors depending on the circumstances surrounding the unauthorized use (see ).


If you have any questions regarding copyright, the protections it affords, or whether or not a use may fall under one of the educational “fair use” exceptions, contact the Office of General Counsel, Old Main 204, (307) 766-4997.  For more information, see:

UW Regulation 3-641 (Patents and Copyrights): 

Presidential Directive 3-1979-2 (Copyright Licensing Agreements):

United States Copyright Office:

Contact Us

Office of General Counsel

Tara Evans, General Counsel

Old Main 204

1000 E. University Ave.

Dept. 3434

Laramie, WY 82071

Phone: 307-766-4997

1000 E. University Ave. Laramie, WY 82071
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