Copyright is one of three types of intellectual property. Intellectual property also covers patents, which are protections for a process, and trademarks, which protect a brand. Copyright is the original and most pervasive form of intellectual property.
Copyright is the protection of an expressed idea. To be more specific, copyright protects "original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works" (U.S. Copyright Office, Copyright in General (FAQ)). What does this mean?
- Original Works of Authorship
- A work cannot be a derivative or copy of an existing work.
- It must be associated with a person, group, company, or some other entity. Works written by anonymous people or people working under a pseudonym are also protected.
- Fixed in a Tangible Medium
- A work must be put in a format that could be accessed by someone other than the creator.
- The law defines this phrase as "when its embodiment in a copy or phonorecord, by or under the authority of the author, is sufficiently permanent or stable to permit it to be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated for a period of more than transitory duration" (17 U.S.C. §101).
- Here are some examples:
- A published music score
- An unpublished manuscript
- A recording of a concert made on a phone*
- A CD
- A Powerpoint Presentation
- * NOTE that there are different laws that govern performer's rights, so if the recording is made illegally, it is not protected by the law.
- Copyright protects expressions of an idea. You cannot protect an idea under copyright laws. Here's a distinction: The Beatles could not protect the idea of creating a concept album, but they could, and did, protect Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts band once they wrote down the lyrics and music and recorded the album.