How to get a Copyright

Hail and well met, fellow creative! What is copyright? It’s all in the name, Copyright is the ‘right’ of the owner to ‘copy’ their work. Copyright law allows the owner of creative work to have full authority over the distribution, use, display, production, license, and monetization of the work itself. 

Have you written this idea down, uploaded your idea on a computer document, or drawn it? Congrats! You now are protected by copyright. 

If you aren’t content with that, you can register your creation with the US copyright office. Now don’t let anyone trick you, you do not have to register your copyright for it to be ‘valid’. Any work with a provable record of existence, and preferably a date, is protected. However if you want more protection you can go to and register your work.

How do you register a copyright? Well once you go to, there’s an icon labeled “Register: Register a Copyright”. Select it, and there should be a list of different types of creative works that can be registered. Click on the one that you think your work falls under and read the information provided. There are also descriptive powerpoints, videos, and tutorials describing step by step the process of filling out each type of application under a box labeled “Electronic Copyright Office (eCO) Registration System”. Fees for filling are listed separately on the Fees Page.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that offers a different kind of creative license than copyright. You already know what copyright does, it allows you to copy, distribute, and profit off of your work and stops others from doing the same. However, what if you want people to be able to access and adapt your project while you still own it? Then you want to file your work under a Creative Commons license! There are six main types of licenses that Creative Commons offer, more detailed descriptions can be found here, on the Creative Commons website. If you are still having trouble determining what license is right for you there are tools available on their website made to assist you in this process. 

Attribution CC BYThis license allows others to distribute, adapt, and use your work, as long as they credit you.
Attribution ShareAlike CC BY-SAThis license allows others to distribute, adapt, and use your work as long as they credit you and file their creation under the same license.
Attribution-NoDerivs CC BY-NDThis license allows others to distribute and use your work as long as they credit you. Unlike the previous licenses, the Attribution-NoDerivs CC BY-NC does not allow people to change your work in any way.
Attribution-NonCommercial CC BY-NCThis license allows others to use your work only if it is for a non-commercial purpose and if they give you credit.
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike CC BY-NC-SAThis license allows others to use your work for any noncommercial purpose but any work created using your original project must be put under the license as well
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-NDThis license allows others to use your work as long as they don’t change it, don’t make money off of it, and credit you.


There are some exceptions to copyright law. 

-Work for Hire

Notice how I said the ‘owner’ and not the ‘creator’ of the work? While the creator is usually the owner, if you are hired by someone else to create something, the person who hired you owns the work. This is why large businesses will have artists and other creators sign contracts that detail who will own the project once it is completed. 

-Fair Use

What is fair use? Fair use is the ability for people to use copyrighted work for specific purposes without permission. Sometimes it is ok to use copyrighted material if you are educating someone about a topic, critiquing it, or making fun of it. To remember what activities fall under fair use I use the acronym NECCS: 

  • Nonprofit
  • Education
  • Commentary
  • Critique
  • Satire/parody

These uses are listed under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, however, the golden rule to remember about fair use is that it is subjective. Since what is considered fair use is so loosely defined, what one authority considers fair could vary wildly from what another authority considers fair. The US Copyright Office has a helpful article about what is taken into legal consideration when determining if a work falls under fair use, found here.

Public Domain

Do you ever wonder what happens when copyright expires? When the term for copyright ends or the owner chooses to waive their copyright the work enters the public domain. The public domain basically means that everyone has access to use the work however they see fit since it no longer has an owner. If you want to find work that is available in the public domain, you have to do your research! You absolutely have to check the copyright date. If the work was created or registered before 1923 then it is automatically in the public domain.  There are several resources available online for finding works in the public domain. For this page I used the list provided by The Public Domain Review