The U.S. Copyright Law is a subset of Intellectual Property law. It is a set of rights granted by a country's legislative body to the authors of "original works of authorship." Copyright protection is granted automatically when a work (usually a photo, audio, video, or written) is created. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operations, although it may protect how these things are expressed.
Copyright is a form of intellectual property protection that provides safeguards for original works of authorship, including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and specific intellectual works, allowing their creators and owners to receive fair compensation for their use and granting them certain rights.
Copyright does not protect ideas, methods, systems, or factual information. From the U.S. Copyright Office: Whether a particular use qualifies as fair depends on the circumstances. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.
Work for hire refers to original work created by an individual hired by another entity (e.g., an employer) to generate income. This work for hire then belongs to the entity that hired the worker instead of the individual who created the original content.
Literary works are the category that includes books, movies, music, and software. Dramatic works, like movies and TV shows, must be accompanied by music or sound. Visual artistic works include painting, sculpture, and photography. Audiovisual works of art include videos and movies. Architectural works include blueprints and technical drawings.
Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible form of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.
Copyright provides the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, perform, display, or license a copyrighted work. Protection is granted for the author's lifetime and (if applicable) 50 years after the author's death.
Copyright protects works that are not covered under the Fair Use Doctrine. For example, Foul language written on a whiteboard or a sheet of paper would be copyright protected. On the other hand, a few curse words said in a podcast or on a website, which is the topic of this section, would not likely be afforded copyright protection.
Copyright protection begins as soon as the work is created and fixed in a tangible form. It is not necessary to register for copyright to qualify for protection.
When a material is in the public domain, it is freely available for use and cannot be copyrighted, including photography, works created by the U.S. government, dictionary definitions, and the like.
The various aggressive measures instituted to control internet content by various means, including locking access via new markup language, encryption features, and plug-ins; use of an informal honor system where entities, such as the Copyright Clearance Center, provide permissions and payments; and good old-fashioned prosecution. Additionally, the Copyright Office has developed the "Copyright Office Electronic Registration, Recordation and Deposit System" (CORDS), a system fashioned to register copyrights online and currently enacted by the eCO electronically.
Copyright law in the United States is highly complex. The Copyright Act was written by Congress in 1790 and has been amended at various times. The most recent amendment to U.S. copyright law, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), made significant revisions to existing copyright law, including provisions that criminalize the circumvention of many digital rights management schemes known as the "anti-circumvention provision." For specifics, please consult these links:
United States Copyright Act of 1790
United States Copyright Act of 1976
Copyright Statutes at Large, Vol. 105-106: Copyright Act of 1976, at 1-54 (last amended Dec. 8, 1997)