Copyright law grants you several exclusive rights to control the use and distribution of your copyrighted work. The rights include the exclusive power to:
- reproduce (i.e., make copies of) the work;
- create derivative works based on the work (i.e., to alter, remix, or build upon the work);
- distribute copies of the work;
- publicly display the work;
- perform the work; and
- in the case of sound recordings, to perform the work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.
As a copyright owner, you can transfer each of these rights to others, either individually (e.g., just the reproduction right or just the display right) or as a group (all of the rights listed above). Additionally, although the exclusive rights are broad, copyright law does not give you an attribution right (i.e., the right to require that your name be associated with the work). Thus, if you decide to transfer or license any or all six of the rights listed above and wish to have your name be associated with the work, make sure to provide for attribution through the contract or license. For information on how to transfer or license rights under copyright, visit the Copyright Licenses and Transfers section of this guide. Note that if you are a minor, although you retain ownership over your own copyrightable work, state laws may restrict your ability to conduct business transactions, such as licensing and transfer.
If someone else performs an action that violates one of these exclusive rights without your permission, you can sue that person or entity in federal court for copyright infringement. Bear in mind that certain prerequisites apply before you can file suit-- consult the Copyright Registration and Notice section of this guide for details.
You can exercise these six rights for the duration of the copyright term. For works created on or after January 1, 1978, this term will vary depending on who is the rightful copyright owner:
- If you create the work on your own, the copyright term lasts from the date of creation to your death plus 70 years.
- If you create the work with others, the copyright term lasts from creation to 70 years after the last surviving author dies.
- If the work qualifies as a work made for hire, the copyright term lasts until 95 years after publication or 120 years after creation, whichever is sooner.
- If an anonymous or pseudonymous author creates the work, the copyright term lasts for 95 years after publication or 120 years after creation, whichever is sooner.
Because copyright rules changed significantly in 1978, the copyright terms for works created prior to 1978 follow different rules. For an explanation of the rules relating to copyright term for works created prior to 1978, see the U.S. Copyright Office's official website. You can also find more information on when works fall into the public domain in the Works Not Covered By Copyright section of this Guide.