What is a Copyright?

Bill NaifehIntellectual Property - General

The term copyright generally refers to the right to make copies.  The roots of copyright law can be traced back to the Statute of Anne of 1710 (which was the first English copyright act).  This law gave authors the exclusive right to make copies of their books.

Today’s copyright law goes much farther in protecting works than just copying in the strict sense of the word.  Much of what is protected under copyright law is really more analogous to the rights to use a work.  The “rights” under U.S. copyright law include:

  1. the right of reproduction (i.e., copying),
  2. the right to create derivative works,
  3. the right to distribution,
  4. the right to performance,
  5. the right to display, and
  6. the digital transmission performance right.

U.S. copyright law protects rights 1 and 2 in both private and public situations, whereas a copyright owner can only restrict the last four rights in public situations.

In order to have a valid U.S. copyright,  the work must be original and fixed in a tangible form.  To be original, the work must be:

  1. An independent creation by the author, and
  2. A modest amount of creativity.

Current copyright law covers works of authorship, which include artistic, literary, musical, computer software, databases, and architectural works.  However, copyrights do not cover ideas, procedures, processes, systems, methods of operation, concept, principle, or discovery.  In other words, copyrights protect the physical expression of an idea, but not the underlying concept or functional feature.