What is Copyright Law?

Read the official text of the U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17 of the United States Code).

United States Copyright Law protects authors or creators of various published and unpublished works. Except as allowed by this code, it is a violation of law for persons to copy, distribute, perform, digitally transmit, or to create a new work based upon a copyrighted work without the permission of the copyright owner.

Categories Protected by Copyright

Copyright does not protect ideas, titles, names, short phrases, works in the public domain, forms that collect information, or links to Web sites. It does, however, protect "forms of expressions" delivered in the following formats:

  • Literary works
  • Musical works (along with accompanying lyrics)
  • Dramatic works (along with accompanying music)
  • Pantomimes and choreographic works
  • Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
  • Motion pictures and audiovisual works
  • Sound recordings
  • Architectural works
  • Computer programs

Author's Exclusive Rights

Copyright law gives an author/creator the exclusive rights to:

  • Reproduce the work in copies or phonorecords
  • Prepare derivative works based on the copyrighted work
  • Distribute copies or phonorecords of the work by sale to the public or other transfer of ownership, rental, lease, or lending
  • Perform literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work publicly.