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What Copyright
Protects

Here in the information age, virtually all intellectual creations can be protected by some form of intellectual property law. Intellectual property divides the universe of intellectual creations into three domains: copyrights, trademarks and patents. In a nutshell, copyright protects expression, trademark protects names, and patents protect ideas.

To see how this plays out, lets take an example of The Neural Nanobots Book, an illustrated book on how to build molecular machines that grease the connections between neurons and axons in the brain. The author is a renowned neuroscientist who also manufactures and sells Neural Nanobots. In this case, the illustrations and text of the book would constitute expression, and would be protected under copyright. The name Neural Nanobots would indicate the author as the source of the molecular machines, and could be protected by trademark. The actual idea of how to create the nanobots as described in the book could be protected by patent.

This example is helpful in that it shows what is NOT covered by copyright. In the context of music, you can copyright the musical composition and the sound recording, but you cannot copyright the name of the band (see trademark for that). In the case of a transactional website that processes copyright registrations online, you can copyright the content of the website, and you can copyright the software powers the website, but you cannot copyright the name or the domain name of the website (see trademark for that), nor can you copyright the idea of processing copyright registrations online (see patent for that).

Copyright protects expression. The Copyright Act of 1976 states that the items of expression can include literary, dramatic, and musical works; pantomimes and choreography; pictorial, graphic and sculptural works; audio-visual works; sound recordings; and architectural works. An original expression is eligible for copyright protection as soon as it is fixed in a tangible form.

Consequently, almost any original expression that is fixed in a tangible form is protected as soon as it is expressed. For example, a graphic created in Photoshop is protected as soon as the file is saved to disk. This Web page was protected as soon as I stopped typing and saved the .html file.

As you can see, most of the items that you are likely to encounter on the net are eligible for copyright protection, including the text of web pages, ASCII text documents, contents of email and Usenet messages, sound files, graphics files, executable computer programs and computer program listings.

Copyright Forms

It determining what forms of expression copyright covers, it is helpful to look at the way the Copyright Office carves up the world of tangible work, and what it considers the major classifications of copyrightable subject matter.

Literary works (TX): Books Periodicals Manuscripts Phonorecords Computer programs Film Tapes Discs Musical and Dramatic Works (PA): Musical Composition (Includes lyrics) Stage plays Screenplays Television plays Pantomimes and choreographic Motion pictures and other audiovisual
Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works (VA): Fine art Graphic art Applied art Photographs Prints and art reproductions Maps Globes Charts Technical drawings Diagrams Models Sculptures Statues Figures Forms Sound Recordings (SR): Music Spoken work Sound effects

Form TX covers Literary works, which include the following:

  1. Books
  2. Periodicals
  3. Manuscripts
  4. Phonorecords
  5. Computer programs
  6. Film
  7. Tapes
  8. Discs

Form PA covers musical and dramatic works, including the following:

  1. Musical Composition (Includes lyrics)
  2. Stage plays
  3. Screenplays
  4. Television plays
  5. Pantomimes and choreographic
  6. Motion pictures and other audiovisual

Form VA covers pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works, including the following:

  1. Fine art
  2. Graphic art
  3. Applied art
  4. Photographs
  5. Prints and art reproductions
  6. Maps Globes
  7. Charts
  8. Technical drawings
  9. Diagrams
  10. Models
  11. Sculptures
  12. Statues
  13. Figures
  14. Forms

Form SR covers sound recordings, including the following:

  1. Music
  2. Spoken work
  3. Sound effects

What Copyright
doesn't Protect

However, not absolutely everything is eligible for copyright. These are items that by their very nature are not eligible for copyright protection:

  • Ideas
  • Facts
  • Titles
  • Names
  • Short phrases
  • Blank forms