Copyright Basics

What is copyright?

  • Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code) to the authors of "original works of authorship," including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works.
  • This protection is available to both published and unpublished works.

What are the exclusive rights of copyright holders?

  • Under section 106,  the owner of copyright has the exclusive rights to do and to authorize any of the following:
  • Reproduce the copyrighted work in copies or phonorecords;
  • Prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work;
  • Distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending;
  • In the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works, to perform the copyrighted work publicly;
  • In the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, to display the copyrighted work publicly; and
  • In the case of sound recordings, to perform the copyrighted work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.

What works are protected?

  • literary works
  •  musical works, including any accompanying words
  •  dramatic works, including any accompanying music
  •  pantomimes and choreographic works
  • pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
  • motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  • sound recordings
  • architectural works
  • In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work. 
  • Under section 102, copyright protects "original works of authorship" that are fixed in a tangible form of expression.

What works are not protected?

  • Works that have not been fixed in a tangible form of expression (i.e. choreographic works that have not been notated or recorded, or improvisational sppeches or perfomrances that have not been written or recorded.
  • Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; familiar symbols or designs; mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, or coloring; mere listings of ingredients or contents.
  • Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devices, as distinguished from a description, explanation, or illustration.
  • Works consisting entirely of information that is common property and containg no original authorship (for example:  standard calendars, height and weight charts, tape measures and rulers, and lists or tables taken from public documents or other common sources)

How long does copyright protection last?