The Portland State University Library has a Copyright Policy that reviews copyright in more detail than this page, and specifically addresses fair use, getting permission to use other’s copyright works, and your rights to scholarly works and copyright considerations around publishing them. This page leans more towards our use of PSU controlled copyright to enhance PSU innovations.

Copyrights as a form of intellectual property are meant to protect original works of authorship. Works that are copyright protected are by their nature fairly concrete, in that the protection accrues to a very particular expression, be it written, recorded, arranged, or performed (although in some cases determining if another person has ‘copied’ your expression can be a fuzzy exercise). A copyright on a book, for example, doesn’t necessarily protect the ideas or general themes of the book, but more precisely the exact expression and arrangement of words in the book.

What can be copyrighted?

Copyrights protect any unique expression fixed in tangible form. These ‘expressions in tangible form’ can include any written work (including software code), films, sculptures, musical compositions and recordings, graphic designs, and arrangements of any of the above. The work does not have to be publicly available to have copyright protection, nor does it need to be marked with a copyright symbol to have protection. Common or simple arrangements of expression may not have copyright. Although many works with commercial value are registered with the United States Copyright Office, any particular work need not be registered to have copyright protection.

What are copyrights good for?

Copyrights accrue to an original work upon creation. Unlike patents, copyrights happen immediately are (with the exception of registration fees if registered) essentially free. Copyrights allow their owner to grant or withhold permission to copy, distribute, derivatize, perform, or display the work. For these reasons, the use of copyright to promote PSU innovation is best suited to written works whose distribution we want to shape immediately or in the near term - although unlike patents copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years, or for certain works made for PSU, 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation. We also utilize copyright for works where we want to ensure free distribution. For example, ‘free’ or open source licensing for software is based on copyrights, and in fact could not happen without copyrights. In another example, we might also want to restrict the editing or further altering of a training manual distributed by PSU, and copyright allows us this control.

What is fair use?

The courts allow people to use copyright-protected material without permission for a limited number of uses. For information about using the copyright works of others in your class or another venue, please see the PSU library’s Copyright Policy.

Who is an author?

Authorship is a simpler determination than inventorship. An author is a person who did the fixing of an expression in tangible form. Although tracking all the authors of a jointly written or produced work can be a difficult exercise, it is important to understand who contributed to a copyrighted work as an author to ensure proper rights clearance when PSU grants rights to others. Even for copyright works, there may be contributors who are not authors but who did work in preparing or developing the work. At PSU we encourage those who are authors to recognize those who helped develop the work but are not authors.

What about foreign countries?

The United States has treaties or agreements that promise to honor each other’s copyrights with most, but not all, countries of the world. We do not need to register copyrights with these countries; our protection in the United States extends to them by agreement or treaty.

For more information, visit the Federal Government's Frequently Asked Questions about Copyright page.