Copyright Basics

Copyright is an essential component of publishing. It helps to protect the value of our products from unlicensed or uncredited usage.

Types of Property

According to U.S. law, there are three types of property you can own.

Real Property includes real estate such as land and buildings. 

Personal Property is something tangible and movable; that is, it isn't fixed permanently to one location as real estate is. This would include furniture, clothing, cars, and other possessions.

Intellectual Property refers to a creation of the human intellect.  

Types of Intellectual Property

A trademark is a symbol, word, or words legally registered or established by use to represent a company or product. Trademarks are used to distinguish one product or service from another. 

A patent is an exclusive right granted for an invention. Patent protection means that the invention cannot be commercially made, used, distributed, imported, or sold by others without the patent owner's consent. 

Copyright provides its owner the exclusive right to copy, distribute, adapt, display, and perform creative work, usually for a limited time.

Copyright Basics

In the United States, copyright is a form of intellectual property law grounded in Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution and is intended to encourage the creation of intellectual and artistic works by giving authors a way to protect and monetize their original work. 

Copyright allows creators of original works the exclusive rights to their works by preventing others from taking or altering a work without permission from the copyright holder​​​​​​​

A license is when a copyright owner gives permission to someone to use the copyrighted work for a specific reason. 

Copyright infringement occurs when a work is reproduced, performed, distributed, publicly displayed, or made into a derivative work without permission from the copyright owner.

Copyright protection is enforceable the moment a work is expressed in a tangible fixed form. Tangible fixed forms include both physical and digital recordings of the work.  You do not need to publish or register the work for it to have copyright protection. 

​​​​​​​What copyright protects

The law provides the copyright holder the rights to reproduce the work, prepare derivative works based upon the work, distribute copies of the work, and perform and/or display the work publicly.  Here are some examples of intellectual property covered by copyright:

  • Literary works
  • Performative or dramatic displays
  • Visual art 
  • Musical compositions

What copyright does not protect

Ideas No one owns an idea until that idea is expressed in a tangible or digital way.  Only then can it be copyrighted.

Data and facts.  Copyright does not protect data and facts themselves.  However, the arrangement of data and facts may be protected. (A video covering more about data can be found here.)

Common Knowledge.  Common knowledge or information that's considered widely known or easily verified is not covered by copyright.  Common knowledge includes geography, folklore, historical facts, and methods of operation. However, the arrangement of such information may be protected.

Public Domain.  The public domain consists of all the creative work to which no exclusive intellectual property rights apply. The copyright may have expired, been expressly waived, or may be inapplicable. Works by the U.S. federal government are also public domain. (Further information on public domain can be found here.) 

Personal Rights.  Personal rights are separate from copyright.  Personal rights are the rights of an individual to control the use of one's identity, such as name, image, likeness, or other distinctive identifiers. (Further information on personal rights can be found here.)