What is protected by a copyright?

Copyright laws protect “original works of authorship” that are fixed in a tangible form of expression. The primary categories of material that can be copyrighted follow:

  1. Literary works: Anything written down is a literary work, including books, poetry, reference works, and speeches, advertising copy, employee manuals, games and computer programs. Characters found in a literary works are protectable if they posses a high degree of distinctiveness. A character that looks and acts like Garfield, the cartoon cat, would infringe on the copyright that protects Garfield.
  2. Musical compositions: A musical composition, including any accompanying works that is in a fixed for, (e.g., a musical score, cassette tape, CD, or an MP3 file) is protectable. The owner of the protectable. The owner of the copyright is usually the composer and possibly a lyricist. Derivative works, which are works that are new renditions of something that is already copyrighted, are also copyrightable. As a result of this provision, a musician who performs a unique rendition of a song written and copyrighted by Lil Wayne, Beyonce, or the Jonas Brother s, for example, can obtain a copyright on his or her effort. Of course, each of these artists would have to consent to the infringement on its copyright of the original song before the new song could be used commercially, which is a common way that composers earn extra income.
  3. Computer software: In 1980, the United States passed the computer software copyright act, which amended previous copyright acts. Now, all forms of computer programs are protected.
  4. Dramatic works: A dramatic work is a theatrical performance, such as a play, comedy routine, newscast, movie, or television show. An entire dramatic work can be protected under a single copyright. As a result, a dramatic work such as a television show doesn’t need a separate copyright for eh video and studio portions of the show.
  5. Pantomimes and choreographic works: A pantomime is a performance that uses gestures and facial expressions rather than words to communicate a situation. Choreography is the arrangement of dance movements. Copyright laws in these areas protect ballets, dance movements, and mime works.
  6. Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works: This is a broad category that includes photographs, prints, art reproductions, cartoons, maps, globes, jewelry, fabrics, games, technical drawings, diagrams, posters, toys, sculptures, and charts.

Other categories of items covered by copyright law include motion pictures and other audiovisual works, sound recordings, and architectural works.

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