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6. Copyright Basics: How it happens

Under current U.S. law, copyright applies as soon as a work is fixed in a tangible medium of expression. This means that the instant that you save a word file, take a photograph, record a song, or paint a picture your work has copyright protection. As the creator you are the owner of the copyright on your work. You do not have to register the work with the U.S. Copyright Office, publish it, or put a copyright notice on it. If you wish to give away, sell or license any or all of the copyright on your work, you have the right to do so. If you give away or sell your copyright to someone else, you no longer have the rights mentioned above and need to treat the work the same as any other copyrighted work created by someone else.

While working with other people’s copyrighted works, remember that their works are also under copyright protection at the moment of creation.  Additionally, U.S. Copyright Law applies to the Internet. The availability of and the ability to access copyrighted materials on the Internet does not mean that those works are in the public domain, and thus free to use, reuse and distribute in any manner you wish. It is important to respect copyright, whether the works are in a physical or digital format.


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