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Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (17 U.S.C. §§ 101 et seq.) to the authors of “original works of authorship,” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works. This protection is available for both published and unpublished works. Section 106 of the Copyright Act generally gives the owner of copyright the exclusive right to do and to authorize others to do the following:

1. to reproduce the copyrighted work in copies or phonorecords;

2. to prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work;

3. to distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending;


4. to perform the copyrighted work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works;

5. to display 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; and

6. to perform the copyrighted work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission, in the case of sound recordings.



Copyright protection subsists from the time the work is created in fixed form; that is, it is an incident of the process of authorship. The copyright in the work of authorship immediately becomes the property of the author who created it. Only the author, or those deriving their rights through the author, can rightfully claim the copyright. In the case of “works made for hire,” the employer and not the employee is considered to be the author.



Copyright protects “original works of authorship” that are fixed in:

1. literary works;

2. musical works, including any accompanying words;

3. dramatic works, including any accompanying music;

4. pantomimes and choreographic works;

5. pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works;

6. motion pictures and other audiovisual works;

7. sound recordings; and

8. architectural works.

These categories are interpreted very broadly; for example, computer programs and most “compilations” are registerable as “literary works;” maps and architectural plans are registerable as “pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works.”


Several categories of material are generally not eligible for federal copyright protection. These include among others:


1. works that have not been fixed in a tangible form of expression. For example, choreographic works that have not been notated or recorded, or improvisational speeches or performances that have not been written or recorded;

2. titles, names, short phrases, and slogans, familiar symbols or designs, mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, or coloring, mere listings of ingredients or contents;

3. ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devices, as distinguished from a description, explanation, or illustration; and

4. works consisting entirely of information that is common property and containing no original authorship. For example: standard calendars, height and weight chart, tape measures and rulers, and lists or tables taken from public documents or other common sources.



Works Originally Created on or after January 1, 1978

A work that is created, fixed in tangible form, for the first time on or after January 1, 1978, is automatically protected from the moment of its creation, and is ordinarily given a term enduring for the author's life, plus an additional 70 years after the author's death. In the case of “a joint work prepared by two or more authors who did not work for hire,” the term lasts 70 years after the last surviving author's death. For works made for hire, and for anonymous and pseudonymous works, unless the author's identity is revealed in Copyright Office records, the duration of copyright will be 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter.

Works Originally Created Before January 1, 1978, But Not Published or Registered By That Date

Works that were created but not published or registered for copyright before January 1, 1978, have been automatically brought under the statute and are now given federal copyright protection. The duration of copyright in these works will generally be computed in the same way as for works created on or after January 1, 1978: the life of the author plus 70 years. The law provides that in no case will the term of copyright for works in this category expire before December 31, 2002, and for works published on or before December 31, 2002, the term of copyright will not expire before December 31, 2047.

Works Originally Created and Published or Registered Before January 1, 1978

For pre-1978 works still in their original or renewal term of copyright, the total term is extended to 95 years from the date that copyright was originally secured.



In general, copyright registration is a legal formality intended to make a public record of the basic facts of a particular copyright. However, except in one specific situation, registration is not a condition of copyright protection. Even though registration is not generally a requirement for protection, the copyright law provides several inducements or advantages to encourage owners to make registration. It is highly advisable to seek copyright protection on any works that could be, or is likely to be, copied without your authorization.




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