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Copyrights at UC Davis

As a public research university, our UC Davis community creates and uses myriads of copyrights in everything we do. While copyright law is fairly simple to state, applying it can be complicated because the result varies depending on the particular facts of each situation, such as what you want to do, whether the material was created as part of a job – even whether it had a copyright notice when it was published!

Frequently-asked Questions about Copyright at UC Davis

  1. What's the difference between copyrights, patents and trademarks?
  2. What works are protected by copyright?
  3. Who owns copyrights?
  4. How long do copyrights last?
  5. Can I use someone else's work for teaching, research or in my coursework?
  6. Do I need to do anything before I distribute UC Davis's copyrighted work?
  7. How do I publish my article as "open access?"
  8. I want to "open source" my software.  How do I do that?
  9. What is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and why did I lose my Internet connection?
  10. Do I really need to know this stuff about copyright?


  1. What's the difference between copyrights, patents and trademarks?
  2. Put simply, the three protect different aspects of the products of our minds, hence the name intellectual property.  Patents protect ideas.  Copyrights protect original expressions of those ideas.  And trademarks protect the value associated with things like names, slogans, and logos associated with a commercial product which is often associated with something patented or protected by copyright.  For more information on patents at UC Davis go here, and for more on trademarks at UC Davis, go here.

    There are actually six copyrights – the legal rights to control what people can do with creative work(s), usually called “works” for short. Federal copyright law gives copyright owners exclusive rights to:

      1. Copy the work
      2. Distribute the copies
      3. Make derivative (new) works such as translations, modifications and format changes
      4. Publicly perform the work
      5. Publicly display the work, and
      6. Digitally transmit sound recordings.

    For the limited lifetime of the copyrights, one needs permission of a copyright owner to do any of these but there are exceptions including certain library and archive uses (beyond the scope of this website), Fair Use and the TEACH Act for distance education.

  3. What works are protected by copyright?
  4. Copyright protects "original works of authorship” that are "fixed in any tangible medium of expression..." This means literary works, including software and web pages; musical works (including words); dramatic works (including music); pantomimes and choreography; pictorial, graphic and sculptural works; motion pictures and audiovisual works; sound recordings; and architecture. For more, go here.

    Ephemeral works such as unrecorded speech, music or dance are not fixed in a tangible medium and so are not protected by copyright, although the prewritten text to a lecture would be. A simple way to protect your creativity is to record it!

    Material that is not eligible for copyright protection includes ideas, facts, procedures, processes, systems, and concepts, although those might be patentable; nor titles, short phrases, and names, which might be trademarks; nor works containing no original authorship, works with expired copyrights, and works created by U.S. government employees in the performance of their jobs. Material that is not protected by copyright is in the Public Domain and can be freely used, including for the creation of new copyright-protected works. For more, go here.

  5. Who owns copyright?
  6. Ownership can be complicated, especially in a research institution. You can find great information on ownership of works whose creation is some way associated with the University of California go here.

  7. How long do copyrights last?
  8. The answer to this has changed several times since the first US Copyright Act in 1790. The earliest protection lasted 14 years from registration. As of January 1, 1978, copyrights spring into being automatically and last for the life of the author plus 70 years, and it can be longer for unpublished or corporate works.

    To make it more complicated, in the past some works which would otherwise qualify for copyright protection actually didn’t because some formality such as registering with the Copyright Office or including a copyright notice was skipped; these are said to have gone straight to the Public Domain. There are some great tools online to help figure this out. But to be safe, assume that all types of works which can be protected, are protected, even if there’s no copyright notice, and be particularly careful with new media such as material on the Internet.

  9. Can I use someone else's work for teaching, research or in my coursework?
  10. This is a good question which warrants a detailed answer. Go here.

  11. Do I need to do anything before I distribute UC Davis's copyrighted work?
  12. Of course! Sharing copyright-protected work that belongs to The Regents of the University of California requires thoughtful consideration, but can be simple and quick if you plan ahead, as many necessary steps are easier to do as the material is created rather than after-the-fact. For more information, go here.

  13. How do I publish my article "open access?"
  14. Historically, academic journals required authors to assign their personal copyrights to their scholarly works in order to be published.  Sometimes authors had to pay additional costs!  The trend is towards "open access," which means that the article has been published in a print or electronic journal that makes articles available at no charge, although sometimes after a period of paid access.  This makes research results more widely available, sooner.

    To assist authors in negotiating terms of publication, the NIH in 2008 began requiring that articles resulting from NIH funding be made available in "open access" within 12 months.  In July 2013 the university established its own UC Open Access Policy to assist authors in negotiating publication agreements.

    Since publication agreements are usually signed by research authors rather than The Regents, compliance is up to the authors.  Changing publication agreements retroactively can be difficult or impossible, so advance planning is key, which can start with choosing author-friendly publishers using resources such as the Sherpa RoMEO database.  Information to help authors do so is the UC Davis library website.

  15. I want to "open source" my software.  How do I do that?
  16. "Open Source" (or OS) is a commonly misunderstood term; it means simply that the software source code is available.  The conditions - shareability, commercial or nonprofit use limits, cost - are in the copyright license that goes with the particular code.  There are hundreds of "official" open source licenses, each with different terms and conditions.

    Take a look at "Software is Special" and the answer to FAQ 6 above for more information on how to provide the information the campus copyright officer needs to determine the appropriate open source license for your code.

  17. What is the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) and why did I lose my Internet connection?
  18. The DMCA (as commonly abbreviated) was enacted in 1998 as a way for copyright owners to address copyright infringement via illegal file sharing through internet service provider networks. UC Davis is considered one of those networks, and The Regents comply with the DMCA for a variety of reasons. You can get more information here.

  19. Sounds complicated and boring. Do I really need to know this stuff about copyright?
  20. Yes. It may sound complicated, but copyright relating to UC Davis gets easier with time. Everyone is responsible for taking care of the copyrights they deal with; since each situation depends on the facts, the person who knows the facts best is in the best position to do the right thing. Getting it wrong can be expensive and can potentially lead to loss of a job or criminal liability! Rare, it’s true, but it happens.

    And complying with copyright law is the right thing to do – we respect other people’s copyrights, and we expect them to respect ours.


Definitions of capitalized terms and FAQs are on the University of California copyright website.

If you have an ucdavis(dot)edu email address you can join the copyright-info listserv or email questions to copyright (at) ucdavis (dot) edu.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be legal advice about your personal copyrighted property or situation. If you have questions about your own copyright protected work of situation, please consult an attorney with expertise in copyright.