Copyright protection begins as soon as a work is created. Copyright is secured automatically when a work is "fixed in a tangible medium of expression." This means that the work must exist in some physical form for at least some period of time, no matter how brief. Copyright does not protect ideas that are not expressed in tangible form. Written works, photographs, and computer files are all examples of tangible media.
Registration, publication and a copyright notice are no longer legally required in order to have copyright.
There are advantages to giving notice of copyright ownership, however, including putting others on notice of the author’s claim of rights and taking advantage of the availability of certain damages in connection with an infringement claim. A copyright notice includes the symbol, the author’s name and the year.
Registration also provides several advantages. It establishes a public record of the copyright claim, and it is necessary for works of U. S. origin before an infringement suit may be filed in court.
Works for hire are works prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment and certain specially ordered or commissioned works prepared under written agreement. In the case of works made for hire, the employer and not the employee is considered to be the author. [See the note on Boston College's Intellectual Property Policy to the left.]
In general, the copyright term for a work created in the United States after 1977 (that is not a work made for hire) is the life of the author plus 70 years. Once the copyright expires, the work passes into the Public Domain.
Peter Hirtle of Harvard University maintains an excellent Copyright Term and the Public Domain chart at the Cornell Copyright Center.
This guide is designed to provide basic, general information about copyright, and does not constitute legal advice. The links to third party sites in this guide are provided for your convenience. Boston College does not take responsibility for the content of these other sites. If you have a question about a specific copyright issue not addressed by this guide, the Libraries encourage you to seek further advice.
If you have questions about this guide or a basic copyright issue encountered in your work, and need more help please contact John O'Connor, Scholarly Communication Librarian, or the subject liaison for your department.
If you have a question about the University’s policies regarding copyright, please contact the Office of Technology Transfer and Licensing at 2-1682. If you have a question that requires the advice of an attorney, please contact the Office of the General Counsel at 2-0960.
Boston College 's Intellectual Property Policy provides that, with some exceptions (including works under sponsored projects, works-for-hire, and works created with the use of substantial University resources), faculty members and students retain their copyright in their own pedagogical or scholarly works, including textbooks, dissertations, theses, papers, and journal articles. Please see the Policy for a more detailed explanation.