Copyright is a form of legal protection that gives the author (creator) of an original work a degree of control over the reproduction and distribution of their work. Copyright protection is automatic under current U.S. Law and begins the instant an "original work of authorship is fixed in a tangible medium of expression."
This protection includes both published and unpublished works. Works do not have to be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office to have copyright protection.
Under the Copyright Act, the owners of copyright have the following exclusive rights:
These "exclusive rights" are subject to some limitations and exemptions, the doctrine of Fair Use being the best example (see page on Fair Use Guidelines).
|Can be Copyrighted||Can not be Copyrighted|
|Literary works||Works not in a "fixed" tangible form|
|Musical works and lyrics||
Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes,
principles, or discoveries
|Dramatic works||Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans|
|Choreographic works||Familiar symbols or designs|
|Motion picture and other audio/visual works||Ingredients of contents (recipes)|
Spontaneous works not in a tangible form
(speeches, musical works, or choreographs)
How long does Copyright protection of a work last?
Copyright protection does not last forever, but when the protection expires depends on many factors:
Sooner or later, a copyrighted work will pass into the Public Domain (until that time, you need permission to use any work under copyright)
For more information on how to determine if a work is in the Public Domain or under Copyright, please see the " Creative Commons & Public Domain" page.