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What May be Covered by Copyrights?

You are an artist. An architect. A screen writer. A visionary even. You produce artistic pieces, no matter what the medium, and you may be thinking about protecting your work from others. You've spent a lot of time creating, revising, and perfecting your material. Don't let someone else take the credit, or worse, profit off of your creativity.

The best way to protect yourself is to copyright your work. Below, you will find an overview discussion of copyright law, the various categories of works that are afforded protection under the law, and examples of what is not eligible for copyright protection. For more information, see FindLaw's Intellectual Property section.

What Does a Copyright Protect?

Copyright protects "original works of authorship" that are "fixed" in a tangible form of expression. Examples of works in a "fixed" form are: a story written down on paper, a computer program saved on a disk, or a song recorded on tape. Copyrightable works include the following categories:

These categories should be viewed broadly. For example, computer programs and most "compilations" may be registered as "literary works"; maps and architectural plans may be registered as "pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works."

What Is Not Protected by Copyright?

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). This includes works in the public domain created by the U.S. government such as federal judicial decisions or statutes, government speeches given in the course of their employment (think Gettysburg Address), press releases and more.

Get Legal Advice from a Lawyer Familiar with Copyright Laws

Whether you are attempting to protect your sound recording, visual art, or even performance art, a business and commercial attorney will be able to counsel you on the proper steps to take in order to retain rights over your work. An experienced attorney can help you to anticipate where potential disputes may arise and assist you in minimizing your time litigating the ownership of your work.

Additional Resources

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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Next Steps

Contact a qualified business attorney to help you identify how to best protect your business' intellectual property.

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