The Basics Of
By: Christopher Sabec
It is important to know the basics of
copyright law in order to understand why
these laws are in place, how they help to
drive the creative process, and how to
avoid unintentionally using copyrighted
Copyright is a federal law under Title 17 of
the United States Code. It originated with the
United States Constitution in an effort to
protect the rights of originators of creative
work and their ability to profit from their
Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution states that
“Congress shall have the power… To Promote the
Process of Science and useful Arts, by securing for
limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive
Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”
Simply put, copyright is the right of the authors or
owners of content to control the use of their work for
a limited period of time. It is important to note that the
a piece of copyrighted work must be an original work
of authorship which is fixed in a tangible medium of
expression. This refers to a physical copy of the
work, such as written work on paper, movie on a
hard drive, or song on a disk.
Copyright is important because it not only
protects the rights of the originators of
creative work but it also promotes
creativity and learning.
With copyright laws in place, an author or
musician can reasonably expect that they will
control over their work, which encourages them
to continue to create and be creative and allows
the rest of us to learn and absorb their creation.
There are 8 categories of works that are
copyrightable under the law:
1. Architectural works.
2. Computer programs.
3. Compilations of works and
4. Literary, musical and dramatic
5. Motion pictures and other AV
6. Pantomimes and choreographic
7. Pictorial, graphic and sculptural
8. Sound recordings.
Adversely, there are numerous types of
works that cannot be copyrighted. Having
familiarity with this list as well will help you
better understand what makes a piece of
1. Ideas, procedures, methods, and
2. Titles, names, short phrases, and
slogans (they can be trademarked
but not copyrighted)
3. Works in the public domain
4. Works that are not fixed in a tangible
medium of expression
5. Facts, news, and research (for
example, you cannot copyright a
What cannot be copyrighted?