FAQS About Copyrights and Copyright Laws

What Is a Copyright?

Copyright is a form of protection provided to the authors of "original works of authorship" including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works, both published and unpublished. The 1976 Copyright Act generally gives the owner of copyright the exclusive right to reproduce the copyrighted work, to prepare derivative works, to distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work, to perform the copyrighted work publicly, or to display the copyrighted work publicly. The copyright protects the form of expression rather than the subject matter of the writing. For example, a description of a machine could be copyrighted, but this would only prevent others from copying the description; it would not prevent others from writing a description of their own or from making and using the machine. Copyrights are registered by the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress.

What is an original work?

An original work is anything that comprises copyrightable subject matter under the Copyright laws, including literary works, musical works, choreographic and dramatic works, pictorial, graphic and sculptural works, motion pictures and other audiovisual works, sound recordings and architectural works. There are also copyrights for semiconductor mask works, derivative works and other works defined by the Copyright Statute.

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