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Overview of Copyrights

Copyright is a form of intellectual property protection applicable to original expressions by the creator. The primary federal law governing copyrights is the Copyright Act of 1976. An “original expression”, for purposes of copyright law, is a very broad term. Section 102 of the Copyright Act identifies several categories of protectable subject matter, as follows: literary, musical, dramatic, pictorial, graphic, sculptural, audiovisual, and architectural works.

Section 102 also excludes several categories: facts, page numbers, mathematical equations, ideas, procedures, processes, systems, methods of operation, concepts, principle, or discovery.

While ideas and facts are not protectable, copyright protects the unique method of expressing ideas or facts. Section 103 specifically identifies compilations of fact that constitute original works as protectable. The facts must be arranged or presented in an original way.

•    Note: Any work that has entered the “public domain” is not capable of protection.

•    Example: Common forms of copyrighted expressions include: literature, music, musical performance, choreography, art, photography, graphic images, sculpture, architectural designs, computer programs, movies or other dramatic works, etc.

•    Discussion: How do copyrights relate to the intellectual property rights protect by patents or trademarks? Are the objectives for these rights similar?

•    Practice Question: Mike is compiling a list of individuals who work in an office building and recording their contact information. He wants to print it as  a guide and sell it to individuals in the building. Can he copyright his work?

 

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