When do I have copyright?

Copyright in a work exists as soon as the work is fixed in a tangible medium.Copyright Law allows copyright protection “in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.” 17 USC §102.

Originality. Originality is a key component of obtaining copyright protection for any work of authorship. Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Co., 499 US 340, 344, 111 SCt 1282, 1287, 113 LEd2d 358, 18 USPQ2d 1275 (1991). Any work of authorship, to be protectable , must contain some element of substantial originality. This means that while facts may not be eligible for copyright protection, the manner in which facts are selected, composed or arranged may be protectable.

Works of Authorship. Copyright Law categorizes works of authorship as follows:

  • 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; and
  • Architectural works.

In addition to those works listed in the Copyright Act, works such as computer programs and multimedia works are also protectable.
Copyright Law excludes protection for “any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work,” because they do not consist of an expression sufficient to justify protection. Id. Additionally, utilitarian objects such as lamps or chairs are not copyrightable. However, if a utilitarian object incorporates and artistic component such as a decorated base, a specially designed lamp shade or uniquely carved chair legs, the art itself is copyrightable. See Mazer v. Stein, supra.

Fixed in a Tangible Medium

Fixation may be in any tangible medium imaginable. The most common forms of fixation include: writing, painting, sculpture, photographs, video, film, architectural structures, computer or flash drives, and other tangible electronic media.
Registration allows a copyright holder to bring an infringement action in the Federal Courts.