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Copyright Resources

What is Copyright?

Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (title 17, U.S.Code) to the authors of “original works of authorship,” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works. This protection is available to both published and unpublished works. 

from US Copyright Office "Copyright Basics"

See also U.S. Copyright Act, U.S. Code, Title 17

What Copyright Does and Doesn't Protect

What Copyright Protects

Copyright only applies to the following kinds of 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 recordings
  • architectural works (see also: Architecture Guide | Copyright tab)

This list encompasses most kinds of creative or intellectual expression.  Works must also be "fixed in a tangible medium of expression".  Unfixed works like improvised music, speeches, or dances are not protected by copyright.

Remember: copyright is not designed to reward hard work but, rather, to foster creativity.  Works that took a lot of effort to put together but that don't contain original expression do not qualify for copyright protection.

What is NOT Protected by Copyright

  • procedures, processes, systems, methods of operation (these are protected by patents)
  • ideas, concepts, principles, or discoveries
  • titles, names, short phrases and slogans; familiar symbols or designs, mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, mere listings of ingredients or contents
  • other unoriginal or unfixed works

In a Nutshell

This 10 minute video covers the basics without violating copyright.

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