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

By Mary Jane Freeman

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.

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.

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.

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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.

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Can Therapeutic Techniques Be Copyrighted?

References

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Copyright Issues Involving Music

A piece of recorded music is covered by two copyrights. The copyright in the composition protects the music and lyrics, if any, and is usually owned by the songwriter. The producer or record company owns a separate copyright in the sound recording, which protects the audio engineering and production of the recording. These copyrights provide their owners with the exclusive right to make copies of the music and distribute it to others, perform the music and create derivative works.

Components of Copyright Law

Title 17 of the United States Code contains the country's copyright law. U.S. copyright law defines the types of works that can be copyrighted, rights granted to a copyright owner and duration of that copyright protection. Additionally, the law sets forth the procedure for filing a copyright infringement claim when a copyrighted work is stolen. Lastly, the law explains the circumstances in which a copyrighted work can be used without permission.

How to Copyright Productions

Theatrical productions are typically a combination of artistic elements such as acting, singing, dancing and direction. The creator of each artistic element has a copyright in his creation the moment it is expressed through a fixed format, such as by writing or recording it. Theater production copyrights are different than in the film, music or television business. In theater, the playwright, lyricist and composer own their work by default, unless they are actual employees of the producer. Dramatic works are excluded from the work-for-hire provisions of the Copyright Act; that means the producer doesn't automatically own the copyright of the other artists' work, but instead it is typically determined by contract. The show's producer would obtain a copyright in the performance of the production as soon as the entire show is recorded; however, the copyright in each individual component of the production that qualifies as an original work would belong to the person or entity that holds ownership rights.

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