Copyright Law

Copyright law is the area of intellectual property law that is familiar to most people. Books, songs, and movies are protected by copyright. It's important to know two things about copyright law: protections do not require registration and copyright protects works rather than ideas. Registering a work for protection can help prove that you are, in fact, the author, but you have the right to your works regardless of registration. Importantly, though, an idea or concept is not subject to copyright.

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 14, 2021

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Copyright protection exists for original works of authorship that involve some minimal level of creativity. In order to be eligible for copyright protection, the work must be fixed in a tangible medium of expression so that it can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine/device.

Works of Authorship Under Copyright Law

Works of authorship include

  1. literary works;
  2. musical works;
  3. dramatic works;
  4. pantomimes and choreographic works;
  5. pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works;
  6. motion pictures and other audio-visual works; and
  7. sound recordings.

Ideas, concepts, principles, or methods of operation are not subject to copyright, but the original work that is authored or created from such ideas or concepts may become subject to copyright.

Literary work is a slightly deceiving description with regard to copyright coverage because it is actually referring to anything that is written and read. For instance, training manuals and materials are often copyrighted by the business that uses them. Programming code is always copyrighted before the designer sells or licenses its use. In fact, even some choreographers will submit both a video-recorded copy of the performance as well as a literary outline of the choreography for double copyright protection.

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What Copyright Protection Does Not Cover

Unfixed performances are not covered under copyright law. For example, if an improvisational comedian wants to copyright his material, he has to either sound or video record it. Likewise, symphony and dance performances cannot be copyrighted unless they are first recorded using some fixed form. These fixed forms can include sheet music, choreography charts, and, of course, video recordings. This is one of the reasons that many operas and ballet studios do not permit recordings of their performances by the audience.

Another area that copyright does not cover is physical inventions. Things such as machines, pharmaceuticals, computer chips, and even plants are protected by a patent instead. Patents are much shorter-lived than a copyright simply because technology changes so quickly. However, many inventors have discovered that they can add some extra protection to their invention by obtaining copyright. Instead of copyrighting the physical invention, the inventors copyright their blueprints and research materials. This ensures that while their work may be replicated, it cannot be claimed as some else’s work.

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