A proper understanding of copyright law is instrumental in protecting
the expression of an idea in a fixed medium. A registered copyright provides the
owner with the right to prevent others from copying or imitating the work.



Copyrightable works include:

  • literary works
  • musical works
  • dramatic works
  • performances
  • graphical works
  • motion pictures
  • sound recordings

Copyright protection lasts for a limited duration.



A work that is created (fixed in tangible form for the first time) on or after January 1, 1978, is automatically protected from the moment of its creation and is ordinarily given a term enduring for the author’s life plus an additional 70 years after the author’s death. In the case of “a joint work prepared by two or more authors who did not work for hire,” the term lasts for 70 years after the last surviving author’s death.


Works that are considered “made-for-hire” are protected for 95 years from the date of publication, or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter. As a result, this statute includes anonymous and pseudonymous works, unless the author’s identity is revealed in Copyright Office records. Works that were created, but not published, prior to that date are also given the same term. Finally, works that were created and published prior to January 1, 1978 have a shorter term of protection.



Copyrights are governed by federal substantive law. Copyrights may be registered at the United States Copyright Office at the Library of Congress. Registration is a prerequisite for filing an infringement lawsuit.

Copyright protection can be effective as soon as a work is fixed in a tangible medium. So, for works that were created after March 1, 1989, the ability to be protected is effective upon creation of the work. There is no need to attach a copyright notice to such works.



Works that are not subject to copyright protection include facts. However, literary works of a factual nature are subject to protection.

While pure ideas are not subject to protection, expressions of ideas can be protected when fixed in a tangible medium.

Additionally, copyright protection also does not extend to systems, methods of operation, and individual words or short phrases.