What Copyright Protects

17 USC Sec. 102 - Copyright protection applies to original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device. Works of authorship include the following categories:

  • 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; and
  • architectural works.

  In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.

  Originality is a Requirement

  Originality is a constitutional requirement. (Feist)

  In two late 19th century decisions, the Supreme Court defined the terms authors and writings. In doing so, the Court made it absolutely clear that both terms presumed a degree of originality. In one case, the Court determined that for a work to be classified "under the head of writings of authors, originality is required" and that "the writings which are to be protected are the fruits of intellectual labor, embodied in the form of books, prints, engravings, and the like."  In another case, the Court defined the term "author," as far as constitutional requirements, to mean "he to whom anything owes its origin; originator; maker." The court further described copyright as being limited to "original intellectual conceptions of the author," and stressed that an author accusing another of infringement is required to prove "the existence of those facts of originality, of intellectual production, of thought, and conception.

Updated 10/08/2009, by Michael Goad ()

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