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A copyright gives the owner the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, perform, display, or license original material. Further, the owner also receives the exclusive right to produce or license the production of derivatives of that material. In essence, a copyright provides protection to the owner guaranteeing that material cannot be copied without the owner's permission. Under the current law, materials are covered whether or not a copyright notice is attached and whether or not the material is registered.

However, an exception exists for the fair use of the material. The fair use of copyrighted material includes such use as reproduction for purposes of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research and is not considered an infringement of a copyright. Thus, fair use allows an individual to reproduce the material for non-profit activities.

Originally, copyrights referred only to written materials. However, copyrights have been extended to include: (1) literary materials; (2) musical materials, including any accompanying words; (3) dramatic materials, including any accompanying music; (4) pantomimes and choreographic materials; (5) pictorial, graphic, and sculptural materials; (6) motion pictures and other audiovisual materials; (7) sound recordings; and (8) architectural materials. Thus, material must be original and published in a concrete medium of expression to be covered by a copyright. In other words, for material to be eligible for copyright protection, a tangible product must exist. Consequently, copyright protection does not extend to any original material for ideas, procedures, processes, systems, methods of operation, concepts, principles, or discovery, regardless of the form in which the material is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied.

The owner of a copyright has the right to do and authorize any of the following: (1) to reproduce the copyrighted material in copies; (2) to prepare derivative materials based on the original copyrighted material; (3) to distribute copies of the copyrighted material to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending; (4) in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic materials, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual materials, to perform the copyrighted material publicly; and (5) in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic materials, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural materials, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual materials, to display the copyrighted material publicly.

The Berne Convention was a convention for the protection of literacy and artistic materials and the Universal Copyright Convention is a convention to provide for the adequate and effective protection of the rights of authors and other copyright proprietors in literary, scientific, and artistic materials, which includes writings; musical, dramatic, and cinematographic materials; and paintings, engravings, and sculpture. As a result, international guidelines for identifying materials that were subject to copyright protection were established, and those guidelines included an administrative process for redress if an author believed material to be reproduced without permission. Not only were the materials subject to copyright protection expanded from written materials to audiovisual materials; pictorial, graphic, or sculptural materials; architectural materials; collective materials; and compilation materials; but reproduction of materials was refined to include performing or displaying material as well as transmitting the work without the author's permission. The United States joined the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Materials in 1989.

The federal agency charged with administering the act is the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress. Materials are subject to copyright protection with or without copyright notice attached to the material. To obtain a copyright for an original work, an application for copyright registration should be filed with the Register of Copyrights in the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress. The application requests the following information: (1) the name and address of the author of the material; (2) in the case of materials other than anonymous of pseudonymous work, the name and nationality or domicile of the author or authors and, if one of more of the authors is deceased, the dates of their deaths; (3) if the work is anonymous or pseudonymous, the nationality or domicile of the author or authors; (4) in the case of material made for hire, a statement to that effect; (5) if the copyright claimant is not the author, a brief statement of how the claimant obtained ownership of the copyright; (6) the title of the work, together with any previous or alternative titles under which the material may be identified; (7) the year in which creation of the work was completed; (8) if the work has been published, the date and nation of its first publication; (9) in the case of a compilation or derivative material, an identification of any preexisting material(s) that it is based upon, and a brief, general statement of the additional materials covered by the copyright claim being registered; and (10) in the case of published documents containing materials manufactured in the United States, the names of the individuals or organizations who performed the manufacturing process and the location where the manufacturing process was performed. Simply, an author of an original work must file the required information and form to register the copyright with the Register of Copyrights in the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress. The appropriate fee must accompany the form to register the copyright. In addition, the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress has been charged with overseeing the copyright process and reviewing any reported violations. While this office has the major responsibility for adjudicating any alleged copyright violations, the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals have both rendered decisions affecting copyrights.


United States Copyright Office, accessed January 31 2006.

Randy L. Joyner