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Copyright: Introduction

Information on copyright and related topics.


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What is Copyright?

Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code) to the authors of literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works, both published and unpublished. To be covered by copyright, a work must be original and preserved in a fixed, tangible form.

Copyright protection subsists from the time a work is created in fixed form, and gives the owner of copyright the right to do and to authorize others to do the following:

  • To reproduce the copyrighted work in copies or phonorecords
  • To prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work
  • To distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending
  • To perform the copyrighted work publicly
  • To display the copyrighted work publicly

Certain limitations to these rights of exclusivity exist under the doctrine of fair use.

The source of copyright in the United States lies in the U.S. Constitution's grant to Congress of the authority to protect the works of authors (U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 8). Copyright law is administered by the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress.

A copyright is different from a patent and a trademark, which are handled by a separate agency.