Copyright Basics

What is Copyright

Copyright grants authors a limited monopoly over their works, encouraging them to create new works while also creating a public domain of ideas, knowledge, and information upon which society can build.

When Is Copyright Established

Copyright is established the moment an idea is put into a fixed medium. Copyright does not require registration or the display of the copyright symbol to exist. Registration is required only if someone wishes to pursue a lawsuit.

What Can be Copyrighted

Copyright resides in the unique expression of an idea which is in a fixed medium. A fixed medium is something that can be reproduced. Copyright protects:

  • Literature
  • Music
  • Art
  • Drama
  • Other intellectual work:
    • computer programs
    • choreography
    • architecture
Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. §102 (2000)

What Cannot be Copyrighted

  • Ideas, procedures, methods
  • Facts
  • Titles, names, slogans, listing of ingredients, or colors
  • Works that are not in a fixed medium, e.g., an extemporaneous speech
  • Federal Government publications
  • Common knowledge

What Does Copyright Protect

Copyright grants authors the exclusive rights to:

  • make copies
  • sell or otherwise distribute their work
  • create new works (derivatives) based upon their work
  • perform or display their work in public
Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. §106 (2000)

This brochure was created by Laura Pope Robbins in 2004 and covers 16 basic facts about copyright.