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How to check if something has a copyright on it

Updated February 21, 2017

Copyrighted work gives the original author or the holder of the copyright of a specific work control over how its distributed, where it is published, and how it may be adapted for a specified period of time. After that time, works become the property of the public domain. Copyrighted work includes expressible forms of any idea ranging from texts (such as literature and articles) to audio (music, interviews) to video (film, television programs) to images (graphic designs, animations).

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  1. Check the work itself. Often copyrighted material will display its copyright on the work. For example, a book usually displays its copyright on its first few pages.

  2. Go to the U.S. Copyright Office website, www.copyright.gov.

  3. Find the “Search Copyright Records” menu toward the middle of the page.

  4. Click on “Registrations and Documents.”

  5. Select “Search the Catalog.”

  6. Conduct a basic search by entering in known information. You can conduct a search by:

  7. Title

  8. Name–for names, put in the last name, then the first name. For example: Stephen King would be typed in "King, Stephen." To type in a company such as Virgin Records, just input "Virgin Records."

  9. Keyword

  10. Registration number–registration numbers should be typed using only lower case letters.

  11. Document number–document numbers should also be typed using only lower case letters.

  12. Command keyword

  13. Choose how many records to be displayed per page. You can have 10, 25, 50 or 100 records displayed on each page.

  14. Hit the “Begin Search” button.

  15. Look up records prior to 1978. If you are unable to find the copyright for a specific work, it could be because the work was copyrighted prior to January 1, 1978.

  16. To find these records, you will have to physically visit the Copyright Office and conduct a search of the card catalogue on the fourth floor of the James Madison Building, Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. EST, except for federal holidays. The address is:

  17. Library of Congress

  18. Copyright Office

  19. Records Research and Certification Section

  20. 101 Independence Ave SE

  21. Washington, DC 20559-6300

  22. (202) 707-6850

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About the Author

Si Kingston has been an online content contributor since 2004, with work appearing on websites such as MadeMan. She is a professional screenwriter and young-adult novelist and was awarded the Marion-Hood Boesworth Award for Young Fiction in 2008. Kingston holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Mills College.

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