The Copyright Act of 1976 is the law governing United States copyright. The law has been amended since 1976, refining the scope of the Act. Below are some basics of the law. Follow the tabs to learn more about how to apply copyright to your work as a student, scholar, and educator.
Copyright covers "original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression." Those notes you scribbled on a napkin at the coffee shop are a fixed tangible medium of expression. Copyright protection is automatic from the moment of creation.
Yes, a creative work is copyrighted from the moment it is "fixed" in any "tangible medium of expression." The copyright symbol used to be required, but as of the signing of the Berne Convention in 1988, the symbol is no longer required. (Copyright Office Circular 3)
Creators and authors are not required to register their work. Copyright still takes effect without it. However, if a work is registered, authors are entitled to certain remedies in case of infringement that they would not otherwise be entitled to.
Not covered: ideas, procedures, processes, systems, methods of operation, concepts, principles, discoveries, recipes (Copyright Law of the US)
The term of copyright is life of the author plus 70 years. In situations where a work is commissioned or created by an employee "within the scope of employment," the term for a "work for hire" is "95 years from the date of publication or 120 years from the date of creation." (Copyright Office Circular 9)
Phonorecords are "material objects in which sounds, other than those accompanying a motion picture or other audiovisual work, are fixed by any method now known or later developed, and from which the sounds can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device. The term “phonorecords” includes the material object in which the sounds are first fixed. (Copyright Law Section 101 Definitions)
Yes, automatically, and registration is not required with the Copyright Office. There are, however, advantages to registering if you wish to be able to seek damages in the case of infringement.