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Copyright: Copyright Overview

Last Updated: Jun 25, 2024 9:04 AM

Types of Intellectual Property

intellectual property illustration

"Copyright, Patent, or Trademark?" by BusinessSarah is licensed under CC BY 2.0. No changes were made to this image.

This guide explains copyright, primarily U.S. copyright, which is only one type of intellectual property. For information about patents or trademarks, visit the U.S. Patents and Trademarks Office site. For more information about patents, check out the Patents guide.

  • Copyright protection applies to original works:
    1. literary works
    2. musical works, including any accompanying words
    3. dramatic works, including any accompanying music
    4. pantomimes and choreographic works
    5. pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works [images]
    6. motion pictures and other audiovisual works
    7. sound recordings
    8. architectural works
  • Copyright protection begins upon creation in a fixed medium:
    • When you click Save on your research paper in Microsoft Word.
    • When you post an original photo you took on your Instagram.
    • When you send an email.
  • Everything you see on the web (fixed medium) is protected by copyright unless it is in the public domain, even if you don't see a © or an author/creator name. FREE ≠ copyright-free.
  • Copyright does NOT require registration with the U.S. Copyright Office. Registration is only required if you ever want to litigate against someone who has infringed your copyrights.

17 U.S. Code § 102 - Subject matter of copyright: In general


What is copyright?

NOTE: This video was uploaded April 30, 2015, and is a good overview of U.S. copyright law. However, since that time, courts have ruled that "Happy Birthday" is in the public domain and no longer protected by copyright. That is the only item in this video that is out-of-date.

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