April 14, 2017

Getting Started

What is copyright?

Copyright law grants to the author (or copyright owner) the exclusive right to: reproduce, make derivatives of, sell, distribute, publicly perform, or display a copyrighted work, subject to fair use and other limitations and exceptions to copyright law. Copyright owners may retain all these rights in their copyright, or give limited licenses that allow others to make specific use of their works.

Copyright law applies to intellectual property that are “original works of authorship.” Common types of works protected by copyright include literary, artistic, and musical works. Copyright is automatic, so it applies as soon as the work has been created. Unless otherwise granted, copyright protection in the United States lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years or 100 years for an institutional author. After this time period has expired, works fall into the public domain and are free from copyright restrictions.

What are open licenses?

With the rise of the internet and the broad ability of more people to produce and share blogs, photographs, videos, and other content, there has been an explosion of both authorship and the methods to distribute copyrighted content. Copyright law, as it stands, provides broad protections that limit the potential for these modes of distribution to improve innovation and improve access to knowledge.

Whether an author officially registers their copyright or not, copyright is automatic: it attaches to eligible works as soon as they are created. Traditionally, if an author wanted to give permission to use their work, they would need to negotiate a license agreement between themselves and one other particular party.

With current technology, however, this becomes unwieldy. In contrast to “All Rights Reserved” licenses, open licenses allow authors and creators to grant the whole public broad permission to reuse their work, while reserving a set of desired rights for themselves. {See our fact sheet “Licensing with Creative Commons” to read exactly how CC Licenses work}. Many types of intellectual property can be openly licensed - data, software, photography, music, research, and books are just a few examples.

What does Creative Commons USA do?

Starting back in 2001, Creative Commons has worked to make intellectual property and copyright laws better serve the public good. Eventually, Creative Commons lawyers drafted full legal licenses that allow authors and creators to share their work with the public - and supported efforts to port these licenses for countries around the world. Read the full story here>

Like the broader Creative Commons Global Network, the Creative Commons USA chapter team works to provide expert advice on copyright law, support those using the CC licenses, and advocate for a vibrant commons of open information that the entire public can access.

Want more in-depth info?

Check out our fact sheets and partners pages, or go the Global Network site at creativecommons.org.