Copyright is the right to control the five rights given to a copyright owner by copyright law.  They are (1)the right to reproduce the work in copies; (2) to prepare derivative works; (3) to distribute copies by sale, rental, lease or loan; (4) to perform the work publicly; and (5) to publicly display the work..  The subject matter of copyright is defined in 17 USC 102:

Sec. 102. Subject matter of copyright: In general

(a) Copyright protection subsists, in accordance with this title, in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device. Works of authorship include the following categories:

(1) literary works;
(2) musical works, including any accompanying words;
(3) dramatic works, including any accompanying music;
(4) pantomimes and choreographic works;
5) pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works;
(6) motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
(7) sound recordings; and
(8) architectural works.

(b) In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.  (Underlining added.)

If the "work" is "original", and not an "idea, procedure, etc.", it is subject to copyright protection.  

Copyright protection existed in the common law and dated from early English law.  Indeed, it is said that an Irish king once decided a dispute over the ownership of a manuscript by declaring:  "To every cow her calf.".  The concept of controlling the reproduction of original works was so important to the founding fathers that they inserted a clause in the United States Constitution authorizing the Congress "to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries."

The result of this constitutional directive was the creation of the federal copyright law, now found at 17 USC 101. (Go to Copyright Resources to see links to laws and regulations relating to copyrights.)  State common law used to exist for works that had not been published, or registered with the federal Copyright Office, but the 1976 Copyright Act eliminated any state laws.  Copyright law is now found exclusively within federal copyright law. 

Law Offices of Douglas Clark Hollmann

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