The Copyright Act grants creators protection in their works by bestowing upon them a bundle of exclusive rights with respect to their works:
Under the current law, copyright protection is automatic and begins the moment any “original work of authorship is fixed in a tangible medium of expression.” See the chart below for the types of original works that are protected by copyright law. Copyright protection does not require any form of copyright notice or registration with the U.S. Copyright Office, although affixing a notice and registering a work enhances protection of the owner’s rights. Further, registration within 90 days of publication/creation is a prerequisite to a claim for damages in the event of infringement. There is a nominal fee for registration, and a copy of the work must be deposited with the Copyright Office.
Ordinarily, a claim for copyright infringement arises when an encroachment upon one or more of the following exclusive rights belonging to the author or creator occurs. These exclusive rights, however, are subject to certain exceptions set out in the Copyright Act. Some of these exceptions are: Fair Use (§107 of the Copyright Act), preservation by libraries and archives (§ 108 of the Copyright Act), and performance and display of works in an educational setting (§110 of the Copyright Act). Please visit the other sections of this Guide to learn more about these and other exceptions.
Copyright provides legal protection to authors of original works, including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works fixed in a tangible form. U.S. copyright law applies to works regardless of whether they are published or have been registered for copyright. Copyright protection allows the author the following exclusive rights for a specified period of time, after which the work becomes part of the public domain:
• To reproduce the work
• To prepare derivative works based upon the work
• To distribute copies by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending
• To perform the work publicly
• To display the work publicly
Copyright law is complex and allows certain exemptions for purposes of study and teaching.
Not all types of works are entitled to copyright protection. See the (nonexhaustive) table below.
|Copyrightable Works||Non-Copyrightable Works|
|Works not fixed in a tangible form (e.g. ideas)|
|Musical works (including accompanying lyrics)||Short phrases, slogans, commercial symbols/colors (however, these may be protected by trademark law)|
|Dramatic works (including accompanying music)||Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devices, as distinguished from a description, explanation, or illustration|
|Choreographic works and pantomimes (must be fixed in a tangible form, e.g. recorded or notated)||Works consisting entirely of common data (e.g. calendar, government weights/measures charts) or entirely of facts (although creative assembly of facts can be subject to copyright, the facts themselves cannot)|
|Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works||Spontaneous speeches that have not been formally fixed into a tangible form
|Motion pictures and other A/V works||Spontaneous musical or choreographic works|
|Sound recordings||Federal government documents (mostly)|