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Copyright law is governed by federal statute, namely the Copyright Act of 1976 (17 U.S.C. § 107). Copyright law is a subset of intellectual property law. Copyright law provides protection to the creators of an original work. It also allows the copyright owner to copy and distribute his/her work while prohibiting others from distributing, displaying, licensing the same work. Finally, copyright law protects derivative work unless it falls under the “fair use” doctrine.

What is covered by Copyright Law?
Copyright law originated to protect the writings of authors, but has since expanded to include many other creative and original works of individuals. These areas include: literary works (books, magazines, articles, poetry), dramatic works (plays, movie scripts, screenplays, written choreography), musical works (songs, lyrics, compositions, music scores, sound recordings), architectural works, visual art works (maps, sketches, paintings, photographs, sculpture), and computer software programs.

What is NOT covered by Copyright Law?
Certain types of material do not qualify for copyright protection. These works are generally protected by other intellectual property or are considered inappropriate for protection.

Unfixed works, or works that have not been fixed in a tangible form of expression, are not protected under the Copyright Act. This is because fixation is a prerequisite for copyright protection. Thus, a speech that has not been written or recorded, or songs that have not been recorded or composed are not copyrightable.

Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans are not protectable. This is because of the authorship requirement of copyright law. These items are too negligible to meet the authorship requirement.

Ideas, procedures, principles, discoveries, and devices are also not protected by copyright law. This exclusion is to maintain the distinction between patent law and copyright law. Ideas and inventions are the subject matter for patents, while theexpression of ideas is covered by copyright law.

Qualification for Copyright Law
To qualify for a copyright, the original work in question must have existed at one point or another in a tangible form. The work must also be original. It does not necessarily have to be unique as long as it is not copied directly from another source. Finally, some creative effort must have been expended by the creator of the work to qualify for copyright protection.

Limitations of Copyright Protection:

Fair Use Doctrine
The Fair Use Doctrine is codified by the Copyright Act. Fair use refers to the public’s right to use certain copyrighted material without fear of penalty. Fair use allows people to reproduce copyrighted material for narrow and specific purposes, including criticizing/critiquing, news reporting, research and scholarship, nonprofit educational uses, and satire or parody of copyrighted work. The statute provides four non-exclusive factors to consider in a fair use analysis. These factors are: 1) the purpose and character of the use, 2) the nature of the copyrighted work, 3) the amount of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted material as a whole, and 4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

Work for Hire Product
Work for Hire products refer to original works that the individual creates while working for another entity. In this instance, the entity that hired the worker, not the individual who actually created the work product, owns the copyright.


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