A copyright protects only original works of "authorship" included in the following seven categories:
- Literary works (including computer programs),
- Musical works, including any accompanying words,
- Dramatic works, including any accompanying music,
- Pantomimes and choreographic works,
- Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works,
- Motion pictures and other audiovisual works,
- Sound recordings.
The 1976 Copyright Act abolished common law copyright and provided express protection for computer programs and databases. A copyright can he claimed for either published or unpublished works and exists at the time the work is created.
The owner of a copyright has the exclusive rights to do and authorize:
- the reproduction of the copyrighted work in copies or phono records;
- the preparation of derivative works;
- the distribution of copies or phono records to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending;
- in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works, the performance of the copyrighted work publicly; and
- in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, the display of the copyrighted work publicly.
It is important to distinguish the ownership of a copyright and the ownership of the material object in which the copyrighted work is embodied. Simply put, you may own a book, but unless you have the permission of the copyright owner, you have no right to make copies of the book.
Initial ownership in a copyright resides in the author or authors. In the case of a "work made for hire" (see definition supra), the employer or other person for whom the work was prepared is considered the author. A copyright may be assigned, and the assignment may be recorded in the Copyright Office. Recordation serves as constructive notice.
Although not the strict requirement it once was after the U.S. became a signatory to the Berne Convention in 1989, it is recommended that the Statutory notice be applied to published works. The notice should be provided in the form of;
- either the symbol ©, "copyright" or "copr.",
- the year, and
- the name of the owner of the copyright.
Registration is not a prerequisite to a claim of copyright. You should, however, register your copyright within five years of first publication since a registration within five years is considered prima facie evidence of the validity of the registration.
Registration is a simple process requiring only that you file an application with the required deposit and payment of the fee. The registration form for Class TX, non-dramatic literary works, is used for computer programs as well as technical manuals. The deposit requirement for a computer program which is fixed or published only in the form of machine-readable copies is one copy of identifying portions of the program, reproduced in a form visually perceptible, either on paper or in microform. The Copyright Office prefers source code but will accept object code. If source code is deposited, it is possible to delete portions of it that are considered to be a trade secret.