How Does Copyright Work?

iEditorial Note: These blog posts represent the opinion of DoNotPay’s Writers, but each person’s situation and circumstances vary greatly. As a result, you should make sure to do your own independent research. Because everyone is unique, our self-help tools are never guaranteed to help with any specific situation. DoNotPay is not a law firm, is not licensed to practice law, and is not equivalent to the services of a licensed lawyer. DoNotPay provides a platform for legal information and self-help, and does not offer legal services. Third party news articles mentioned on our website do not necessarily reflect the views of the company, or the current services that we offer.

How Does Copyright Work?

Copyright is a word that seems to be ubiquitous nowadays because we create and share content more than ever before, thanks to the internet. Most information on the internet is protected by copyright or at least eligible for protection.

Copyright notices, DMCA protection, and copyright claims—if these phrases make your head spin, you’re not the only one. Understanding the existing copyright laws, including the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998, is not an easy task. It’s no wonder that many cases of copyright infringement happen unintentionally.

This article will help you understand how copyright works and how you can protect your original content easily with DoNotPay’s help.

What Is Copyright?

Referring to a set of several rights pertaining to original work is one way to define copyright. It can also be understood as intellectual property and ownership of creative content.

If you create original work, you have the right to:

  • Reproduce and make copies of your work
  • Distribute, rent, or lend copies to the public by sale or another transfer form
  • Display the work in public
  • Perform the work publicly
  • Use digital audio transmission to perform sound recordings publicly
  • Create derivative works inspired by or based on the original work

Any or all of these rights can be transferred, but it must be done in writing and include the signature of the original owner.

Besides rights transfers, the general public can use copyrighted material if it falls under the fair use doctrine.

What Form of Expression Is Subject to Copyright?

The public institution that records and certifies copyrighted material is the United States Copyright Office (USCO)—a part of the Library of Congress. According to their definition, copyright encompasses original works of authorship that use a tangible form of expression.

The most common examples of content that can be copyrighted are:

  • Music, including sound recordings and lyrics
  • Poetry, novels, and other literary works
  • Choreography and pantomime
  • Dramatic works, including any music accompaniment
  • Movies, TV shows, other motion pictures, and audiovisual works
  • Photographs, paintings, sketches, sculpture, and other visual arts content
  • Works of architecture
  • Digital content like computer software, blogs, websites, etc.

Is Something Still Copyright Protected Without Being Published?

Yes, it is. According to the U.S. Copyright Office FAQ page, copyright laws protect even unpublished works, and they usually have more success when disputing infringement defense based on fair use.

What Is Not a Copyright?

Since the lines between various forms of expression can get blurry, many people get confused about what works cannot be protected by copyright. Items that cannot be copyrighted include:

  • Titles, names, words, slogans, short phrases
  • Familiar symbols and designs
  • Discoveries, principles, procedures, concepts
  • Listings of contents and ingredients
  • Works not fixed in a tangible form (a speech that wasn’t written down or a choreographic work not recorded or notated, for example)

How complex the distinctions surrounding copyright can be is proven by the example of a recipe. Cooks who wish to protect their original creations cannot copyright mere lists of ingredients, but if they include written instructions or descriptions or create a whole cookbook, there are grounds for copyright registration.

How Long Is Copyright Valid For?

The copyright duration creates a lot of confusion. Common questions regarding time limitations of copyright include:

  • Does copyright protection begin as soon as the work is created?
  • If an 1850 document is put online, is that subject to copyright?
  • How long does copyright last?

Copyright begins at the time a creative work is recorded, written, or drawn, in a sense that the author has those six rights we mentioned above. Enforcing those exclusive rights through litigation will require official registration with the U.S. Copyright Office, which is not mandatory otherwise.

As explained on the Stanford University Libraries website dedicated to copyright and fair use, if creative work was published after 1977, the copyright is valid 70 years after the author’s death. In case it is work for hire, the copyright protection ranges between 95 and 120 years from publication. The same rule applies if you publish it under a pseudonym/anonymously.

Creative works published before 1925 are now public domain, and anyone can use and copy them without repercussions.

Copyright, Patent, or Trademark?

Copyright is not the only form of intellectual property since patents and trademarks also cover different kinds of original work. The most common question is, “Can you make copyright for a device or a machine?” The answer is negative. You can only patent it or copyright its blueprints as original pictorial work.

If distinctions between these intellectual property types confuse you, check out the table below for more clarification:


Content Type

Original creative works like books, songs, movies, etc. Any content (word, symbol, or design) used to identify the source of goods Discoveries and inventions like machines, processes, compositions of matter, or their improvements


  • Creativity
  • Originality
  • Tangibility of the used format
  • Distinction
  • Novelty
  • Usefulness
  • Nonobviousness
Protection DurationAuthor’s life and an additional 70 yearsAs long as it’s used in commerce20 years

How To Protect Your Work From Copyright Infringement

Using a copyright notice in your work hasn’t been a requirement since 1989, but it can be a good step towards further protection against infringement. If you wish to take someone to court for copying or using your work without permission, you will need to register it first.

The instructions on how to copyright your creative content go as follows:

  1. Open this U.S. Copyright Office registration link to create your account
  2. Fill out the registration form
  3. Use your credit card to pay the registration fees
  4. Provide a copy of your work

While it’s more convenient to register copyrights online, it is possible to do it using postal services. In that case, you will have to include a physical copy of your work in an appropriate format (print or a CD).

Basic registration fees for both methods are visible in this table:

Registrations of a Claim in an Original Work of Authorship

Online RegistrationsSingle author, same claimant, one work, not for hire$45
All other filings$65
Paper Registrations (Forms PA, SR, TX, VA, SE)$125

Use DoNotPay To Create DMCA Takedown Notices

If you haven’t registered your work with the Copyright Office and you want to avoid expensive lawsuits for online infringement cases, you can let DoNotPay help you with writing an efficient DMCA takedown notice.

The form of a takedown notice is not fixed, but it must honor certain specifications. Our platform will save you from hours of online research and complicated vocabulary because DoNotPay can do it on your behalf in mere minutes:

  1. Set up your DoNotPay account in a
  2. Select DMCA Takedown when you log in
  3. Give us the name of your work and the website where it was published without permission
  4. Confirm your contact details
  5. Click on Sign and Submit

This method will work wonders even if you don’t have any registration certificates or other proof of ownership.

DoNotPay Protects You Every Step Of The Way

Stopping copyright infringement is just one of our specialties. DoNotPay, as the world’s first AI Consumer Champion, has much more to offer.

By accessing our platform from any , you will be able to:

Want your issue solved now?