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Copyright Definitions

Copyright protection is critical in providing legal protection for individuals and small business owners' creative and intellectual property rights. Whether you are an inventor, author, musician, or entrepreneur, understanding the nuances of copyright law is imperative for safeguarding your creations.

Knowing some key terms related to copyrights can help you better understand this often-complicated area of law. Below, you'll find essential copyright terms defined.

Architectural Works: Architectural designs and structures that are eligible for copyright protection.

Berne Convention: The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works is an international treaty offering copyright protection to foreign works under certain conditions. It was first signed in Berne, Switzerland 1886, and the United States joined in March 1989.

Certificate of Registration: An official paper denoting that a particular copyright has a registration with the U.S. Copyright Office. Registration is no longer required but can help protect a copyrighted work.

Copy: The material object in which the copyrighted work is first fixed. This means one perceives it or can reproduce it.

Copyright: A type of protection provided to "original works of authorship" that are "fixed in a tangible form." Copyright protection is available to certain categories of works, including:

  • Musical
  • Literary
  • Dramatic
  • Choreographic
  • Computer programs
  • Audiovisual works

Copyright protection provides various exclusive rights to the copyright owner.

Copyright Holder: The entity or individual that has copyright ownership of the copyrighted work.

Copyright Notice: The copyright notice consists of the "c" in a circle (©), the year the work was first published, and the copyright owner's name. A copyright notice is not required for works first published on or after March 1, 1989.

Copyright Registration: The process of officially registering a work with the U.S. copyright office provides legal benefits and remedies in case of infringement.

Creative Commons: This is a licensing system that allows creators to specify the permissions and restrictions for others to share, use, and build upon their work.

Copyright Infringement: Copyright infringement is the unauthorized use, distribution, or reproduction of copyrighted material.

Deposit: The copies or phonorecords of a work placed in the U.S. Copyright Office to support a copyright claim. It is part of the public record. Under the Copyright Act of 1976, there are mandatory deposit requirements.

Derivative Works: A new work created by modifying or building on an existing creative work. Derivative works need permission from the original copyrighted holder.

Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA): The DMCA is an amendment to the U.S. copyright laws. It addresses the role of online service providers in copyright infringement. It also addresses technological advances and how they affect copyright laws. The DMCA makes it a criminal act to:

  • Produce and disseminate devices, services, or technology that evade measures that control access to works, even if there is no actual copyright infringement
  • Circumvent and access control to works

It also increases penalties for copyright infringement through the Internet.

Document: The paper that relates to the ownership of a copyright or any other matter that involves a copyright. There are benefits to recording documents in the U.S. Copyright Office for the public record.

Fair Use: Fair use is a legal doctrine that allows limited usage of copyrighted material without permission of the copyright owner. The use must be for research, news, criticism, reporting, commentary, or educational purposes.

Intellectual Property: This broad legal term encompasses copyrights, trademarks, patents, and trade secrets. Intellectual property protects creative works.

Licensing: Permitting others to use copyrighted material under specific conditions. Licensing involves fees or payment of royalties.

Life of the Author: The duration of copyright protection usually extends for the life of the author or creator plus 70 years.

Literary Works: A copyright protection category that protects writers or printed works. This includes:

  • Books
  • Articles
  • Other text-based materials

Musical Works: Copyright protection category that protects the composition of music. This includes both the musical notes and the lyrics. For example, Prince owned the copyright to the musical notes in "Purple Rain" as well as the copyright to the lyrics since he composed both.

Phonorecord: The material object in which sounds are fixed, meaning that they can be perceived or reproduced. Examples of phonorecords are LP vinyl disks, cassette tapes, and compact discs. Phonorecords do not include sounds that go with a movie or other audiovisual work.

Publish: Distributing copies or phonorecords to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership. It is also considered publication if there is an offer to distribute copies or phonorecords to a group for further public display, public performance, or distribution.

Public Domain Dedication: An intentional act by the copyright holder to relinquish all rights to a work. This places them in the public domain.

Recordation: The act of filing a copyright document, such as an initial application or a copyright transfer, with the U.S. Copyright Office. Recordation makes the facts in the document part of the public record.

Royalties: Payments made to copyright owners for the use of their copyrighted works.

Sound Recording: A sound recording is a work that results from the fixation of a series of spoken, musical, or other sounds. The underlying work has a separate copyright from the sound recording.

Statute of Limitations: The legal time limit of when a copyright owner can file a lawsuit for copyright infringement.

Work for Hire: A work-for-hire is work created by an employee within the scope of their employment or by an independent contractor through a written agreement. In this legal arrangement, the hiring party has a license to the copyrighted material created during employment. It does not need to compensate the employee for the use. The copyright on work made for hire belongs to the employer or the party who commissioned the work unless otherwise noted in their written agreement.

Getting Legal Help

If you have any questions or concerns about the copyright definitions listed in this article or copyright law in general, you may want to contact an intellectual property attorney in your area. An intellectual property attorney can also help with trademark law and how to get legal protection for works through the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

For more information and resources related to other forms of intellectual property, such as patents and trademarks, please visit FindLaw's Intellectual Property section.

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