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Copyright/Creative Commons, Trademarks, and Patents: Copyright/Creative Commons

This guide provides an overview of intellectual property and ways to search for patents and trademarks.

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International Copyright Protection

As the Copyright Office notes in its circular on International Copyright protection, "There is no such thing as an 'international copyright” that will automatically protect an author’s writings throughout the world. Protection against unauthorized use in a particular country depends on the national laws of that country." That said, the circular goes on to discuss protections afforded by various multilateral treaties.  Information on the treaties, which as the Berne Convention and the WIPO Copyright Treaty can be located at the World Intellectual Property Organization's website.

In a similar vein, the Digital Public Library of America, Creative Commons, and Europeana are working on establishing international and interoperable rights statements.  More information can be found here.

Creative Commons Licensing

Creative Commons logo

Creative Commons is a concept related to copyright that allows for both the sharing of intellectual property while retaining the rights the creator wants to retain.  It does not replace a copyright, nor does putting one's work under a Creative Commons License move materials to the public domain.  For example, one might want people to be able to access music created by them while not wanting the music to be used in commercial settings.  This allows for greater sharing and collaboration.

For more information, check out the Creative Commons website.

Creative Commons definitions

Copyright Basics

Copyright is the legal protection of the expression of ideas, such as

  • literary works
  • musical works, such as musical scores and sound recordings, including any accompanying words
  • dramatic works, such as plays, television shows, and motion pictures including any accompanying music
  • pantomimes and choreographic works
  • pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
  • architectural works

What is in the Public Domain?

What is in the public domain can be confusing and simple at the same time. If one looks at the chart created by Cornell University, many different possibilities exist. However, there is a simple rule of thumb involving published, copywritten works:

  • pre-1927: all materials are in the public domain.
  • 1927-1963: materials are in the public domain if their registrations were not renewed. If the registration was renewed, the materials has copyright protection for 95 years. Check the Stanford University Copyright Renewal Database to see if a book has had its copyright renewed.  For other copyrights, the renewal volumes have been digitized by the Copyright office.
  • 1964 and later: all materials are under copyright protection.

The Catalog of Copyright Entries

The Boston Public Library holds the Catalog of Copyright Entries. Unfortunately, after the August 1998 flood in the building, the collections are no longer complete. For those we are missing in print, there is microfilm available.

The copyrights are grouped in different parts, and there were different series.

Series 2 (1906-1946) is divided as follows:

  • Part 1, Group 1= Books
  • Part 1, Group 2= Pamphlets, contributions to newspapers or periodicals, lectures, and maps
  • Part 1, Group 3= Dramatic compositions and motion pictures
  • Part 2= Periodicals
  • Part 3= Musical compositions
  • Part 4= Works of art, photographs, etc.

Series 3 (1947-1977) is divided as follows:

  • Part 1= Books and pamphlets, including serials and contributions to periodicals
  • Part 2= Periodicals
  • Parts 3 & 4= Drama and works prepared for oral delivery
  • Part 5= Music
  • Part 6= Maps and atlases
  • Parts 7 to 11A= Works of art
  • Part 11B= Commercial prints and labels
  • Parts 12 & 13= Motion pictures and film strips
  • Part 14= Sound recordings

Since 1978 the Catalog of Copyright entries have been online.