In the United States, the idea for Copyright was embedded in the U.S. Constitution in Article 1, Section 8, which describes the powers of Congress.
"Congress shall have Power...To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries"
According to U.S. Copyright Law, copyright protects works of "original authorship that are fixed in a tangible expression". This includes broad categories of literary works, musical works, dramatic works, visual (pictorial, graphic, and sculptural) works, pantomime and choreographical works, motion pictures and other audiovisual works, sound recordings, and architectural works. Copyright takes effect immediately once a work has been fixed in a tangible form - registration is not necessary - and lasts for 70 years after the death of the author, or, in the case of works for hire or anonymous/pseudonymous works, 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter.
Copyright gives the author the following exclusive rights:
to reproduce the work
to prepare Derivative Works based on the work
to distribute the work
to publicly perform the work
to publicly display the work
These rights can be transferred from the author in whole or in parts, but exclusive rights can only be transferred in writing and signed by the copyright holder.
What is NOT protected by copyright?
works that are not fixed in a tangible form (for example, an improvised performance that is not recorded)
names, titles, short phrases, slogans, mere listings of ingredients or contents, familiar symbols or designs, mere variations of typography, coloring or lettering
ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devices, as distinguished from a description, explanation, or illustration
works consisting entirely of information that is common property and containing no original authorship (for example: standard calendars, height and weight charts, tape measures and rulers, and lists or tables taken from public documents or other common sources)
Circulars are published by the Copyright Office to provide up-to-date and authoritative information to a general audience. Circulars are arranged by topic and cover the basics and fundamental concepts of copyright law, highlights of policies and procedures of the Copyright Office, and registration issues for specific categories of works.
This Guide was originally conceived by Dr. Kenneth Crews. Its purpose is to provide an overview of copyright law and examine issues, including fundamental principles of copyright law, copyright ownership, fair use and other permitted uses.
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