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Creating Copyrightable Works

What types of works are copyrightable?

Copyright protects original works of authorship which possess a modicum of creativity. Examples of protected works may include: literature, art, sculpture, drama, choreography, film, music, architectural drawings, or computer programs. Blank forms or common property sources that are not works of original authorship nor sufficiently creative (e.g., blank forms or score cards) are generally not protected. 

Copyright protects creative works that have been fixed in some tangible form of expression. Examples include an article or poem written on paper, a computer program saved to a hard drive, a song recorded as a digital audio file, or a painted portrait.  An improvised speech, song, or dance that has not been recorded would not be protected.

Symbols, logos, or inventions are not always protected by copyright, but may be protected under other areas of intellectual property law, such as patents or trademarks.

The U.S. Copyright Office offers publications such as guides and circulars discussing authorship and copyright. This is a good place to find detailed discussion of copyrightable authorship. There are also brief publications (circulars) on works that are not copyrightable, including works not protected by copyright and discussion of the lack of protection (as well as other options for protecting) ideas, methods, and systems.

How can I register my works?

You do not have to take any formal action in order to enjoy protection of your copyrighted works. Works that are copyrightable, including unpublished works, are automatically protected once they are fixed in a tangible form. 

However, as a copyright owner, you may also register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office at any time during the term of copyright protection. Registering your copyright provides you with additional legal benefits that can help if you ever have to enforce your copyright. A small fee is required to register a copyright. The Copyright Office offers comprehensive guidance on questions relating to registering a copyright at their Registration Portal, as well as forms for completing the process online.

How does copyright work in the classroom?

Students hold the copyright to the works they create, even if those works were created to fulfill class or degree requirements. Although students may be required to share their works (i.e., presenting a film to a class, submitting copies of a paper to a peer group), this does not imply that anyone else can copy, distribute, or otherwise reuse the student’s work without permission.

Instructors typically hold the copyright to the instructional content (lectures, presentations, assignments, etc.) they create in support of a course. Students who wish to copy or distribute these types of class materials (i.e., streaming a presentation, recording a lecture) should seek permission from the instructor. Recordings that also include work and identities of other students may also be subject to the FERPA and copyright protections for other students enrolled in the class.

Students who have registered with UNM’s Accessibility Resource Center may seek academic adjustments that include the use of recording devices in the classroom as an aid to ensuring equal access to the educational experience. 

  • Policy 2310: Academic Adjustments for Students with Disabilities for additional information on accommodations for students with disabilities
  • Regents Policy Manual 5.8: Intellectual Property for discussion of the ownership, protection, and transfer of scholarly, artistic, or technological works created by UNM students, faculty, and staff.
  • Faculty Handbook Policy E70: Intellectual Property, for a detailed discussion of intellectual property rights at UNM. 

Are there special considerations for dissertations and theses?

Student authors of theses and dissertations own the copyright to those works and may register their copyrights at any time. Of course, like other creative works, dissertations and theses are copyrighted automatically once fixed in a tangible form. Nevertheless, UNM Graduate Studies recommends that student authors also register their copyright in order more fully to protect their work. 

What about ProQuest? 

All doctoral Ph.D. students at UNM are required to submit their dissertation electronically to ProQuest-UMI for addition to ProQuest's repository of theses and dissertations. Doctoral EDD students within the College of Education are not required to follow this practice. 

ProQuest works with another company, iParadigms, to ensure that works included in its thesis and dissertation repository are original. The programs Turnitin and iThenticate are used to verify the originality of works. Those works are also retained in Turnitin and iThenticate databases as source documents to continue checking for original work, as well as to ensure that works are properly acknowledged. Some authors may not wish to have their work retained in the Turnitin and iThenticate databases. Authors who wish to have the ProQuest copy of their graduate works removed from these databases are advised to contact

What if I created or authored something as part of my job? 

An exception to the principle of copyright ownership is the concept of works made for hire. If an individual creates a copyrightable work as part of the conditions of her employment, the employer may be considered the author or creator of that work and hold the copyright to it. UNM creators and authors should consult Faculty Handbook Policy E70, which discusses the ownership, protection, and transfer of scholarly, artistic, or technological works created by UNM students, faculty, and staff.

How does copyright apply to my publications?

Publishing contracts may place limitations or restrictions on the protections afforded to authors under copyright law. In some cases, publishers may seek a transfer of copyright from the author to the publisher. Even without the transfer, publishers may place limitations on activities, including: prohibitions on placing a copy of a work in an online repository such as the UNM Digital Repository, sharing the work on an author’s personal website, distributing the work to students as a course reading, or sharing with other scholars through scholarly presentations. Authors are advised to carefully review the assignment of rights in publication agreements and to ask questions, or seek agreement to secure the ability to disseminate their work as they see fit. For additional information about author rights and for information on amending publishing agreements, see Author Rights and the SPARC Author Addendum, maintained by the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition

Publications resulting from federally-funded research projects may require that authors make their work publicly accessible. The NIH Public Access Policy requires authors to submit their final peer-reviewed journal manuscripts to the PubMed Central archive upon its acceptance for publication. The NSF Public Access Policy requires that “either the version of record or the final accepted manuscript in peer-reviewed scholarly journals and papers in juried conference proceedings or transactions be deposited in a public access compliant repository designated by NSF.”

The SHERPA RoMEO database maintained by JISC (formerly the Joint Information Services Committee) in the UK provides information about many publisher’s copyright policies. Scholars interested in exploring open access publishing venues may wish to check the Directory of Open Access Journals for information about reputable academic journals or the TOME (Toward and Open Monograph Ecosystem) project for information about open access monographs. Scholars interested in open educational resources may wish to consult the OER Handbook for Educators

What if I find out that someone infringed on my copyright?

It can be wonderful to learn that others have discovered and are using your scholarly and creative works! But it can also be terrible.  A person who uses your work without permission infringes your copyright.  In some cases, you may be able to stop the infringement.  In other cases, the infringing use may be allowed as a fair use of your works. 

If you believe your copyrights are being infringed, options you may wish to consider include: 1) contacting the party directly and ask that they stop what you believe to be an infringing use of your copyrighted work; 2) contacting the website hosting the work (if online) to ask that they remove or disable the work; 3) seeking legal assistance from an attorney.