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A copyright is the right to restrict the copying of a specific creative work. Restricting copying helps keep third parties from incorporating large amounts of a creative work into their own work (such as a chapter from the book Understanding the Times into another book on Worldviews), or republishing a work in its entirety.
How Copyrights Work
Getting a Copyright
Normally copyrights are acquired through the creation of a work. Whenever someone creates a creative work (for example, a written text, audio recording, or program) that person automatically gets a copyright to that work, whether or not a copyright notice is placed in the work. If multiple creators work on the same project, they will each share equal portions of the copyright for that work, unless otherwise agreed upon between them.
Although less common, copyrights can also be acquired by someone who didn't create the work. Copyrights can be granted by copyright holders, either for free or for something in return (for example, the copyright authors grant to their publishers when they publish their work). A copyright can also be transferred to a second party, leaving the first party without one. This second mode of copyright acquisition is based on a legal agreement between the parties.
Using a Copyright
Copyrights and the Public Domain
Works under a copyright are restricted, while works in the public domain are not restricted. Both types of content may be found within the other, but this doesn't change their copyright status. So public domain content can be included in copyrighted works without its becoming copyrighted, and copyrighted content can be included in public domain content without its becoming public domain. Copyrighted works eventually enter the public domain when their copyright expires.
For more information on public domain content and the expiration of copyrights, see Public Domain.