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Copyright is protection provided by law (17, U.S. Code §102) to the authors/creators of “original works of authorship,” expressed in any tangible medium of expression. This protection is available for original works from the moment they are created in a tangible medium, and it applies whether they are published, unpublished, or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office.
Copyright protection is available for an author/creator if three requirements are met:
- Fixation—the work exists in a medium from which the author’s expression can be read, seen, or heard, either directly or by the aid of a machine
- Originality—the work owes its origin and independent creation to an author
- Minimal creativity—the work is the product of at least a minimal level of creativity
Most original works are protected by copyright. The U.S. Copyright law places copyrightable works in the following categories:
- Literary works
- Musical works, including any accompanying words
- Dramatic works, including any accompanying music
- Pantomimes and choreographic works
- Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
- Motion pictures and other audiovisual works
- Sound recordings
- Architectural works
You should view these categories broadly. For example, computer programs and most compilations may be categorized and registered as literary works; maps and architectural plans may be categorized and registered as pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works.
Section 106 of the U.S. copyright law gives the owner of a copyright the exclusive rights to do and to authorize others to do the following:
- to reproduce the work
- to prepare derivative works based upon the work
- to distribute copies of the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending
- to perform the work publicly
- to display the copyrighted work publicly
- in the case of sound recordings, to perform the work publicly by means of digital audio transmission in the case of a “work of visual art” the author has certain rights of attribution and integrity
- in the case of a “work of visual art” the author has certain rights of attribution and integrity
The rights of the copyright owner are, in some instances, limited as several sections of the U.S. Copyright Law have established limitations on these rights. However, unless one or more of the limitations (exemptions) apply, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner before using copyrighted works in any of the listed ways.
The copyright owner is the person or entity who owns the exclusive rights mentioned above. The copyright owner could be the author, the publisher, or another person or entity having legal ownership of one or more of the exclusive rights described above.
Remember, it is both dishonest and illegal for a person to violate any rights of the copyright owner.
Copyright protection does not extend to the following; therefore, copyright permission is not required for you to use them. They are part of the public domain.
- Works for which the copyright has expired.
- Works federal government employees produced within the scope of their employment.
- Works clearly and explicitly donated to the public domain.
- Works that have not been fixed in a tangible form of expression (for example, choreographic works that have not been notated or recorded, or spontaneous speeches or performances that have not been written or recorded).
- Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; familiar symbols or designs; mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, or coloring; mere listings of ingredients or contents.
- 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 contains 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).
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