A Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States to 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 This protection is available to both published and unpublished works. Material not protected by copyright (or otherwise protected) is available for use by anyone, without the author's consent. On the other hand, an author of a copyrighted work may prevent others from copying, performing or otherwise using the work without the author's consent. 

You need to understand various types of copyrights and the implications of not getting one. The FAQs should answer most of your questions.


What Works may be protected?

A copyright gives certain exclusive rights to persons who create original works of authorship, including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works. This protection is available to both published and unpublished works. Copyrightable works include the following categories:

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 should be viewed broadly. For example, computer programs and most "compilations" may be registered as "literary works"; maps and architectural plans may be registered as "pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works." 

To be copyrightable, the work must be more than an idea; it must be fixed in a "tangible form of expression." This means that the work must be written or recorded. This is because a copyright does not protect an idea or plan; instead, it protects the expression of that idea or plan. 

In addition, the work must be original. It must not be copied from someone else, and it must contain some minimal level of creativity. Facts, well-known phrases or a list of names, in and of itself, are not copyrightable. However, if these items are organized or expressed in an original manner, then a copyright would protect that organization or expression.


The Copyright Holder

In general, only the creator of an original work (or a person which has lawfully been transferred the copyright) can register the copyright. However, if the author prepared the work within the scope of his or her employment, or if the work was specially ordered or commissioned in some circumstances, then the work is considered a "work for hire" and the employer or commissioning party is considered to be the author. 

The authors of a joint work are co-owners of the copyright, unless there is an agreement to the contrary. Copyright in each separate contribution to a periodical or other collective work is distinct from copyright in the collective work as a whole and vests initially with the author of the contribution. 

It should be noted that mere ownership of a book, manuscript, painting, or any other copy or record does not give the possessor the copyright. The law provides that a mere transfer of ownership does not automatically transfer rights in the copyright. Minors may claim copyright, but state laws may regulate the business dealings involving copyrights owned by minors.


Scope of Copyright Protection

Copyright protection generally gives the owner of the copyright the exclusive right to do the following:

  • To reproduce the work;
  • To prepare derivative works based upon the work;
  • To distribute copies of the work to the public;
  • To perform the work publicly;
  • To display the copyrighted work publicly, and;
  • In the case of sound recordings, to perform the work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.

The owner may also authorize others to exercise these rights. 

For works created after January 1, 1978, copyright protection will endure for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years. In the case of a joint work, the term lasts for 70 years after the last surviving author's death. For anonymous and pseudonymous works and works made for hire, the term will be 95 years from the year of first publication or 120 years from the year of creation, whichever expires first. 

However, there are some very important limitations on the reach of copyright protections. The first and most important is the doctrine of fair use, which allows others to use portions of copyrighted works for purposes such as reviews, commentary, news and scholarship. Second, items which are not copyrightable, such as titles, names, common facts and ideas are not protected. Third, some works are in the public domain and may be used by anyone. This includes works where the copyright has expired.

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