Copyright is protection provided by U.S. law to literary, musical, dramatic, artistic, and other works that are original and fixed in a tangible medium of expression. The authors of copyrighted works, or those to whom they transfer their copyrights, have the exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, and publicly perform or display the works, and to prepare derivative works based upon them.
Originality is one quality that is essential if a work is to receive copyright protection. In copyright law, originality generally does not refer to the work’s aesthetic or artistic quality. Rather, an original work is one that originated from a particular author and not from another. To be original, a work needs only the slightest amount of creativity. Examples of original work include movies, records, tape recordings, computer software, cartoons, poems, and books, among others. Some works are denied protection because they are too short or lack original authorship. These may include titles of books, movies, and songs; short phrases and slogans; printed forms; compilations of facts; and works consisting entirely of information that is public domain property—for example, lists and tables taken from public documents.
Copyright protects the expression of an idea or vision, not the idea itself. Ideas, procedures, processes, systems, methods of operation, concepts, principles, and discoveries, as distinguished from descriptions, explanations, or illustrations of such matters, are not protected under copyright law.
A work is considered fixed in a tangible, or concrete, medium of expression when its embodiment in a copy or phonorecord is sufficiently permanent or stable to permit it to be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated for a period of more than transitory duration. Some works such as unrecorded dance choreography, and unrecorded speeches, lectures, and other vocal performances are not copyrightable because they are not fixed in a tangible medium.
A derivative work is a work based upon one or more preexisting works. Two common examples of derivative works are translations and motion picture versions of literary works.