Under United States copyright law, the author of certain kinds of original work has automatic, exclusive rights in that work from the moment it is fixed in a tangible medium of expression.  Examples of copyrightable works are: text, photographs, videos, music, and software.  The author’s exclusive rights include the right to reproduce, distribute, and display the work, to prepare derivative works from the work, and to authorize others to exercise those rights.

The identity of the author of a copyrighted work depends on the particular facts and circumstances surrounding creation of the work.  The author may be (1) the individual who actually created the work (i.e., wrote the code, text, illustrations or other tangible material) either independently or jointly with others (an individual who has contributed an idea but no tangible part of the work is not an author for purposes of copyright law); (2) an employer, where an employee has created the work within the scope of his/her employment; or (3) a third party who has specially ordered or commissioned the work pursuant to a written agreement.  For example, when a Boston University employee writes software code within the scope of his/her employment at Boston University, Boston University is considered the work’s author.

As mentioned above, an original work of authorship is automatically protected by copyright from the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible, perceptible form.  The legal formality of copyright registration is not a condition of copyright protection, although registration with the U.S. Copyright Office does afford the copyright owner certain advantages. The term of copyright protection is lengthy; for example, a work created on or after January 1, 1978 has a term enduring for the author’s life plus an additional 70 years after the author’s death.

Only tangible works are protected under copyright law; copyright does not protect ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, devices, formulas or algorithms (as distinguished from the way these things are expressed, described or illustrated). Although not protected by copyright, these discoveries may be the subject of patent or trade secret protection.

Please contact OTD if you believe there may be a commercial opportunity for copyrightable material in which Boston University has an interest.

For more information about copyright, you can visit the U.S. Copyright Office website at: