What is Protected by Copyright?

Copyright law covers works of authorship and expression that are fixed in any tangible medium of expression. Since 1978, in the US Copyright is automatic… that is, you don’t need to register something or even put a notice on it to signify that it is covered by copyright. Copyrightable works include the following; see list below. View FAQ What Does Copyright Protect?

  • 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

What is Not Protected by Copyright?

"To be protected by copyright, a work must contain a certain minimum amount of original literary, pictorial, or musical expression" (Circular 32). Several categories of material are generally not eligible for federal copyright protection. These include among others:

  • Works that have not been fixed in a tangible form of expression (for example, choreographic works that have not been notated or recorded, or improvisational 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 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)
  • 17 USC § 105 "Copyright protection under this title is not available for any work of the United States Government..." (17 USC § 105). U.S. government works created by federal government employees "as part of that person’s official duties", (17 USC § 101), are not subject to copyright in the United States, but may be subject to copyright in other countries.