What is a Copyright?

Copyright is a form of protection provided to the authors of original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works, both published and unpublished.  This protection exists as soon as the work is fixed in a tangible medium.

In general, work created by an individual on or after January 1, 1978 is protected for the life of the author plus 70 years.  For works made for hire, the protection lasts for the shorter of 95 years from the year of its first publication, or a term of 120 years from the year of its creation.

The 1976 Copyright Act generally gives the owner of copyright the exclusive right to reproduce the copyrighted work, to prepare derivative works, to distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work, to perform the copyrighted work publicly, or to display the copyrighted work publicly.

The copyright protects the form of expression rather than the subject matter of the writing.  Thus, ideas are not protected, only the expression of the ideas as fixed in a tangible medium may receive copyright protection.  Copyrights are registered by the Library of Congress, which can be found at http://www.loc.gov/copyright.