Anything you create is automatically under copyright protection from "the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device," according to U.S. copyright law. You don't need to register your work or publish it for it to be protected by copyright.
Under U.S. law, a copyright holder has the exclusive rights to do and to authorize any of the following:
- To reproduce the copyrighted work
- To prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work
- To distribute copies of the copyrighted work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending
- To perform the copyrighted work publicly
- To display the work publicly
Copyrighted material can be used in teaching and research under any of the following conditions:
- The work in question is in the public domain.
- The work is Creative Commons licensed.
- Permission has been granted by the copyright owner or through some other means such as a negotiated license agreement (such as those negotiated with publishers by the University Libraries or the Copyright Clearance Center.)
- The use falls within the four “fair use” factors as defined in Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C or falls under an educational use exemption as defined in Section 100 and as amended by the TEACH Act.