What Makes Something an Original Work for Purposes of Copyright Law?

by Mary Jane Freeman Google
A painting is an original work and may be copyrighted.

A painting is an original work and may be copyrighted.

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Copyright protection is only available for works that are original in nature, such as an artist's painting, an author's novel or an architect's drawing. If someone creates a work that is new or different from anything else, chances are he can copyright it.

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What Copyright Protects

Copyright protects original works of authorship in a variety of categories, including literature, music, choreography, drama, motion pictures and other audiovisual material, architecture, pictures, sculptures and sound recordings. The owner of a copyright has the right to sell or lease his work. He can make and distribute copies of it, display it and/or perform the protected work. The copyright owner may also authorize other persons to use the work. This right typically lasts for the life of the owner plus an additional 70 years; this period may differ slightly in certain circumstances, such as when there are joint owners.

Meaning of Original Works

To receive copyright protection, a work must be original. Generally, this means the work is new and different, which usually requires a minimum level of creativity. For example, while the alphabet is not an original work for copyright purposes, if someone uses the letters of the alphabet in a painting, the artistic rendering of those letters is original. A work must also be set in a fixed, tangible form or it can't be copyrighted. The moment the artist turns his idea about incorporating the alphabet into visual art by creating an actual painting using the letters, copyright attaches to the painting and the artist owns that copyright. You cannot copyright ideas.