What is Copyright?

Copyright law in the U.S., like patent law, serves to incentivize creative activity and to add to the pool of public knowledge. While patents serve to protect “the useful arts,” copyright exists to protect the expression of ideas. Ideas themselves are not copyrightable, but an original expression of an idea may produce a copyright.

Title 17 of the United States Code defines copyright law, and section 102 enumerates a non-exhaustive list of copyrightable works: Literary works; Musical works, including accompanying words; Dramatic works, including accompanying music; Pantomimes and choreographic works; Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works; Motion pictures and other audiovisual works; Sound recording; Architectural works.

Items not subject to copyright include public domain works, works prepared by the government, or any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery. Classic examples of works not copyrightable are phone books and recipes.

Copyrights, unlike patents, spring into existence the moment copyrightable subject matter is created. A fixed and original expression will create a copyright and the work is automatically according legal protections against reproduction, preparation of derivative works, distribution, public display, public performance, and digital transmission.

While these rights granted under copyright law spring into existence automatically, a copyright owner can enforce his or her copyright only if it is registered with the copyright office.

Copyright law provides strong protections for authors, including the ability to collect “Statutory Damages,” which allow for a predetermined range of damages for each instance of infringement, as well as attorney’s fees.

Copyright registration is an affordable and straightforward process, and it behooves authors and owners to register their works early.

Registering a copyright is an important and cost-effective way for authors to ensure that their investment of time and creativity is protected from copying or other infringement.