⚠ — Nothing on this website should be construed as legal, financial, or medical advice. For professional advice, please consult your lawyer, your financial planner, or your doctor. The authors of these pages do not and cannot be expected to guarantee the accuracy of the following information. You may use it as you see fit, but you use it at your own risk.


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

Generally speaking, copyrights work automatically. A copyright notice doesn't need to be given in a work, and the regular restrictions of copyrights don't need to be specified. However, there are times when a creator wants to allow others to do certain things with their work which would otherwise go against the creator's copyrights, and therefore break Copyright Laws. In this case, the creator may grant certain exceptions to the regular copyright restrictions (otherwise known as a license), such as the quoting of text up to a certain limit. Licenses are normally found in a copyright notice for books, or in a separate License, Terms of Use, or EULA (End User License) file for programs.

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.