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Copyright: Copyright Your Work

This guide contains information (but not legal advice) about aspects of copyright most commonly encountered by the students, faculty, or staff of institutions of higher education.

How to Copyright Your Own Work

Do I Own the Copyright?

The copyright for works created by students, including works created for course assignments, belong (in most cases) to the students who created them. The rules are more complex for University of California faculty and staff. For complete information on copyright ownership at the University of California, see Works Created at UC

Any U.C. employee who teaches will want to become familiar with the UC policy on Ownership of Course Materials

Copyright Is Automatic

Copyright is automatically granted to any qualifying work as soon as it is put into a fixed and tangible form (see The Basics). As a creator, you do not need to take any action to copyright your work; however, it is good practice to place a copyright notice on any work you want to protect. You can do this by including on your work the copyright symbol—either © or (c)—followed by the date and your name. For example: 

© 2020 Mary Hunter Austin  


(c) 2020 Mary Hunter Austin

Since 1977, there has been no need to file for an extension of copyright to prevent it from expiring. Currently, all copyrighted works are protected for the maximum length of time set down in the copyright law. 

Registering Your Copyright

It is possible, though not required, to formally register the copyright for a work you have created. Registering copyright involves paying a filing fee and submitting a copy of the work to the U.S. Copyright Office. For more details on the process, see the U.S. Copyright Office FAQ Registering a Work

There are legal advantages to registering your copyright. Registration: 

  • makes the facts of your copyright a public record.
  • provides you with a certificate of registration.
  • makes your work eligible for statutory damages and attorney's fees (in the event of a successful lawsuit against an infringer). 
  • is considered prima facie evidence in a court of law (if the work was registered within five years of publication). 

Whether or not to go to the trouble and (modest) expense of registering is up to you. If you believe you have created a work with potentially significant commercial value, then registering the copyright is a probably good idea. However, even if you don't register the copyright, any work you create is still automatically copyrighted and, therefore, protected. 

Creative Commons Licenses

Creative Commons licenses provide a no-cost way for creators to share their work--under conditions specified by the creator--while still retaining ownership to their work and control over how it is used. According to the Creative Commons website: 

The Creative Commons copyright licenses and tools forge a balance inside the traditional “all rights reserved” setting that copyright law creates. Our tools give everyone from individual creators to large companies and institutions a simple, standardized way to grant copyright permissions to their creative work. The combination of our tools and our users is a vast and growing digital commons, a pool of content that can be copied, distributed, edited, remixed, and built upon, all within the boundaries of copyright law.

For example, if you wrote and recorded a song that you wished to share at no charge via YouTube, you might choose a Creative Commons license that allows others to share your recording but only if they 1) attribute the work to you, 2) do not use it for commercial purposes, and 3) do not create derivative works. Such a license would allow your song to be heard by anyone; however, if Lady Gaga wanted to do a cover version of your song, her representatives would be required to negotiate the rights to do so with you.