Under Article I, Section 8, Clause 8, the United States Constitution grants Congress the power “To promote the progress of science and useful arts by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive Right to their respective writings and discoveries." Established to promote creativity and innovation, this provision establishes the basis for patent law and copyright law in the United States. Congress has since enacted and amended legislation to grant the owner (author, artist, composer, photographer, etc.) of original works certain specified exclusive rights to their works for a limited period of time. Copyright owners have exclusive rights to:
Reproduce the work in whole or in part
Distribute the work publicly by sale, loan, or gift
Prepare derivative works based on the protected works
Perform and/or display the work publicly
The Copyright Office of the Library of Congress oversees the administrative functions of the copyright law. Congress enacts copyright laws. The Federal courts interpret and enforce the copyright law.
All original works become copyrighted and are thereby legally protected the moment they become fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright protection is available for both published and unpublished works. The U.S. Copyright Law does not currently require the use of a copyright notice (© or the word copyright, the author ́s name and the year of publication), although placing it on a work does confer certain benefits to the copyright holder.
Copyright protects works of authorship that are:
Copyright does not protect everything. Categories of works that are not eligible for copyright protection, regardless of when they were created and whether or not they bear a copyright notice:
Digital and electronic content enjoy the same protection under the U.S. Copyright Law as non-digital, traditional, and analog works. Both electronic and non-electronic databases (such as professional directories and collections of images) may be copyright-protected if they reflect some level of creativity by the author in the selection or organization of the data and the conditions for copyright protection are otherwise met. Moreover, any non-digital content that is protected by copyright law is protected in its digital form as well.
Copyright lasts from the moment a work is created until 70 years after the death of the author, except for works produced by a company/employer or other "works for hire" in which case the copyright lasts 95 years from the date of publication or 120 years from creation, whichever expires first. Works created and published prior to 1978 may be protected for different lengths of time. Works no longer protected by the copyright law automatically pass into the public domain. For more information, see the Copyright Status Chart by the Cornell Copyright Information Center.