English flagItalian flagChinese (Simplified) flagPortuguese flagGerman flagFrench flagSpanish flagJapanese flag


Copyright law in the United States is based on the U.S. Copyright Act,
17 U.S.C. §§ 101 – 810, federal legislation enacted by Congress under its Constitutional grant of authority to protect works of authorship. See U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 8. Given the scope of the federal legislation and its provision precluding inconsistent state law, the field is almost exclusively a federal one. See § 301 of the act.  United States Copyright fact sheets and publication are available at

Types of Works Protected by Copyright

Copyright law protects “works of authorship.” To be covered by copyright a work must be original and in a concrete “medium of expression.” See § 102. The Copyright Act states that works of authorship include the following types of works:

  • Literary works. Novels, nonfiction prose, poetry, newspaper articles and newspapers, magazine articles and magazines, computer software, software documentation and manuals, training manuals, manuals, catalogs, brochures, ads (text), and compilations such as business directories
  • Musical works. Songs, advertising jingles, and instrumentals.
  • Dramatic works. Plays, operas, and skits.
  • Pantomimes and choreographic works. Ballets, modern dance, jazz dance, and mime works.
  • Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works. Photographs, posters, maps, paintings, drawings, graphic art, display ads, cartoon strips and cartoon characters, stuffed animals, statues, paintings, and works of fine art.
  • Motion pictures and other audiovisual works. Movies, documentaries, travelogues, training films and videos, television shows, television ads, and interactive multimedia works.
  • Sound recordings. Recordings of music, sounds, or words.
  • Architectural works. Building designs, whether in the form of architectural plans, drawings, or the constructed building itself.

Multimedia Works Protected by Copyright

Copyright law is important for multimedia developers and publishers for two reasons:

  • Original multimedia works are protected by copyright. The Copyright Act’s exclusive rights provision gives developers and publishers the right to control unauthorized exploitation of their works.
  • Multimedia works are created by combining “content” – music, text, graphics, illustrations, photographs, software – that is protected under copyright law. Developers and publishers must avoid infringing copyrights owned by others.

Procedure for Getting Protection

Copyright protection arises automatically when an original work of authorship is fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Registration with the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress is optional. However, in order to file a federal lawsuit for infringement, the copyright owner must file for registration.

The use of copyright notice is optional for works distributed after March 1, 1989. Copyright notice can take any of these three forms:

  1. © followed by a date and name.
  2. “Copyright” followed by a date and name.
  3. “Copr.” followed by a date and name.

The Exclusive Rights

A copyright owner has five exclusive rights in the copyrighted work:

  1. Reproduction Right. The reproduction right is the right to copy, duplicate, transcribe, or imitate the work in fixed form.
  2. Modification Right. The modification right (also known as the derivative works right) is the right to modify the work to create a new work. A new work that is based on a preexisting work is known as a “derivative work.”
  3. Distribution Right. The distribution right is the right to distribute copies of the work to the public by sale, rental, lease, or lending.
  4. Public Performance Right. The public performance right is the right to recite, play, dance, act, or show the work at public place or to transmit it to the public. In the case of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, showing the work’s images in sequence is considered “performance.”
  5. Public Display Right. The public display right is the right to show a copy of the work directly or by means of a film, slide, or television image at a public place or to transmit it to the public. In the case of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, showing the work’s images out of sequence is considered “display.”


Anyone who violates any of the exclusive rights of a copyright owner is an infringer. A copyright owner can recover actual or, in some cases, statutory damages and attorneys’ fees. Civil remedies and criminal penalties may be sought or enforced against an infringer.

International Protection

U.S. copyright owners automatically receive copyright protection in approximately 190 countries that are parties to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works or parties to the Universal Copyright Convention (UCC).

Last Modified: December 5th, 2009