Common Copyright Questions
Common Copyright Questions from First Timers
Folks who come to Copyrights for the first time tend to have the same type of questions. Let's review some of the common ones. And the answers are the ones normally used by the Library of Congress, who has Copyright responsibility.
What is Copyright?
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 medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished
What does copyright protect?
Copyright, a form of intellectual property law, protects original
works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works,
such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture.
Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation,
although it may protect the way these things are expressed. See Circular
1, Copyright Basics, section "What Works Are Protected."
How is a copyright different from a patent or a trademark?
Copyright protects original works of authorship, while a patent
protects inventions or discoveries. Ideas and discoveries are not protected by
the copyright law, although the way in which they are expressed may be. A
trademark protects words, phrases, symbols, or designs identifying the source
of the goods or services of one party and distinguishing them from those of
When is my work protected?
Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created
and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the
aid of a machine or device.
Do I have to register with your office to be
No. In general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from
the moment the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish
to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work. See Circular 1, Copyright
Basics, section “Copyright
Why should I register my work if copyright
protection is automatic?
Registration is recommended for a number of reasons. Many choose
to register their works because they wish to have the facts of their copyright
on the public record and have a certificate of registration. Registered works
may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney's fees in successful
litigation. Finally, if registration occurs within five years of publication,
it is considered prima facie evidence in a court of law. See
Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section “Copyright
Registration” and Circular 38b, Highlights of Copyright Amendments
Contained in the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA), on non-U.S. works.
I’ve heard about a “poor man’s copyright.” What
The practice of sending a copy of your own work to yourself is
sometimes called a “poor man’s copyright.” There is no provision in the copyright
law regarding any such type of protection, and it is not a substitute for
registration. Bad idea.
Is my copyright good in other countries?
The United States has copyright relations with most countries
throughout the world, and as a result of these agreements, we honor each
other's citizens' copyrights. However, the United States does not have such
copyright relationships with every country. For a listing of countries and the
nature of their copyright relations with the United States, see Circular 38a, International Copyright Relations of
the United States.