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What Is Copyright Law?

By Eric Misterovich

Copyright law in the United States is a body of law authorized under Article I, Section 8 of the US Constitution that is intended to promote the progress of science and the useful arts. Under the Copyright Act, copyright law extends to all works of creative authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Thus, copyright rights exist upon fixation–as soon as a creative work is set into a semi-permanent form, copyright law applies. Copyrightable works include books, websites, movies, music, sculptural works, architectural works, dramatic works, choreographic works, an photographs.

Though copyright law extends to creative works, it does not protect inventions, ideas, facts, procedures, processes, short names, concepts, principles, or discoveries. Additionally, copyright law does not protect useful articles, that is, utilitarian articles that do not contain creative components that are either physically or conceptually separable from the functional aspects of the article. For example, though copyright law can protect an automobile creator’s logo, it cannot protect the body of a car unless there are features of that body design that are not dictated by the functional aspects of the vehicle.

Copyright owners are granted six exclusive rights in the copyrighted work:

  1. The right to reproduce the work;
  2. The right to prepare derivative works based upon the work;
  3. The right to distribute copies of the work by sale or other transfer;
  4. The right to publicly perform the work;
  5. The right to publicly display the work; and
  6. The right to digitally transmit the work via audio transmission.
These exclusive rights are subject to certain limitations, such as fair use. Copyright infringement occurs where one of these exclusive rights is violated and may be proven by establishing that the infringer had access to the plaintiff’s work and that the defendant’s work is substantially similar to the plaintiff’s work. If you believe that your copyright rights have been infringed, contact one of our expert copyright lawyers today.

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