Types of Works Protected

Content in this page was used or adapted with permission from one or more institutions. Please see acknowledgements.

Types of Works Protected

  • literary works
  • musical works, including accompanying words
  • dramatic works, including accompanying music
  • pantomimes and choreographic works
  • pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
  • motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  • sound recordings
  • architectural works

To be protected by copyright, works must be fixed in a tangible medium, that is, recorded, for example, in writing, in a book, on a recording, in a photo, in Braille, in a Web page or other digital format, etc. The work must be original, and it must have some creative spark, "no matter how crude, humble, or obvious" it might be (Feist Publications, Inc. vs. Rural Telephone Service Co., 499 U.S. 340 (1991)). Copyright comes into existence from the moment fixation of the work occurs; no registration or other formalities are required to create and own copyright.

What Is Not Protected

  • works not fixed in a tangible form of expression (e.g., improvisational unrecorded speeches, performances, and choreographic works)
  • facts
  • titles, names, short phrases and slogans; familiar symbols or designs, mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, mere listings of ingredients or contents
  • ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devices, as distinguished from a description, explanation, or illustration
  • certain works produced by government employees
  • works consisting entirely of information that is common property and containing no original authorship

In other words, the law protects the expression of facts and ideas, but not the facts and ideas themselves. Also, the law does not provide guidance as to where an "idea" stops and creativity starts. Case law and statutes ultimately make that determination.