Copyright in General
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 Copyright covers both published and unpublished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 others.
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 protected?
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
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 5 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 is it?
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.
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.
Note: The Copyright Office offers introductory answers to frequently asked questions about
copyright, registration, and services of the Office. Links throughout the answers will guide
you to further information on our website or from other sources. For any other questions, please visit
our Contact Us page.