The purpose of this guide is to explain common principles of copyright. Information in this guide should not be interpreted as legal advice.
Copyright refers to legal protections granted to creators to control how their work is used by others.
Copyright serves two main purposes:
Copyright provides protection for original works of authorship in tangible form. It protects the expression of ideas, but not the idea itself. Examples of works protected by copyright include literary works, musical works, theatrical works, and architecture.
Copyright today in the United States is automatic--as soon as an original work is created in a tangible form, that creation is subject to copyright protection. Typically, copyright protections extend for 70 years following an author's death.
Many countries have laws regulating copyright. Many of those countries have signed onto the Berne Convention, which established minimum standards for copyright protections and principles for cross-border recognition of copyright law.
The emphasis of this guide will be on copyright and its application in the United States legal system.
Copyright is not the only form of legal protection for intellectual property. Depending on the type of work, one or more of these other protections might apply:
Trademarks: Words, images, sounds, and other symbols of brands are protected by trademark law.
Patents: Inventions are protected by patent law.
Moral Rights: Moral rights protect a creator's honor or reputation. In the United States, only visual art works are granted moral rights, through the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA), 17 U.S. Code § 106A.