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Authors' Rights & Copyright

How does a work get copyrighted?

Copyright applies automatically to any original work created by a person (must be created by the author rather than copied) that has a minimal degree of creativity.  It must also be "fixed in [a] tangible medium, of expression" meaning that it must in some sense be recorded and perceivable, such as on paper, in a computer file, or on a DVD.

There are eight categories of works protected under copyright law:

  • Literary works
  • Musical works, including any accompanying words
  • Dramatic works, including any accompanying music
  • Pantomimes and choreographic works
  • Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
  • Motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  • Sound recordings, which are works that result from the fixation of a series of musical, spoken, or other sounds 
  • Architectural works

These categories should be viewed broadly and not as a definitive list. For example, computer programs can be registered as literary works, while maps can be registered as pictorial or graphical works.

Some things cannot be copyrighted as a function of law or because the lack sufficient creativity: 

  • Facts or ideas
  • An alphabetically arranged list of names and phone numbers
  • Titles, names, short phrases, or slogans (may be protected by trademarks)
  • Procedures, methods, systems or processes (may protected by patents)
  • Works of the United States government
  • Works that have passed into the public domain