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The Basics Of Copyright

At one point, you’ve heard of copyright, and that copyright is a concept that needs to be acknowledged with creative works. But what is copyright, and why is it important?

Copyright, by definition, is the exclusive legal right given to a creator (or an assignee) to print, publish, film, perform, or record any written, musical, and artistic material, and authorize others to do the same. It is crucial to any creative work and creatives, especially to writers and literature, to know how basic copyright works because not only protecting your work is important but to also keep yourself out of potential legal trouble.


Copyright covers these types of works:

  • Literary works
  • Musical works and accompanying words
  • Dramatic works and accompanying music
  • Pantomimes and choreographic works
  • Motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  • Sound recordings
  • Architectural works

In the United States, copyright only protects “original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression.” For any work to be eligible for copyright protection, it must follow this criteria:

  1. It must be an original work. To quality as an original work, the work must be created independently and have “at least a modicum” of creativity applied.

      2. A work of authorship is also required; these include literary works, musical works, artistic works, etc. 

      3. The work must be “fixed in a tangible medium of expression” by or under the authorization of the creator. Examples of this include being written on paper, or on a computer or hard drive.                Unrecorded improvisations do not satisfy this requirement.

An important aspect of copyright to note is that it exists for a limited time. United States copyright does not protect works created by government employees and officers. Copyright also does not protect “any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery.” To reiterate from the criteria listed above, in order for the copyright to be protected, it has to be recorded in a tangible form like paper or a computer or any kind of hard drive.

Violating copyright is known as plagiarism. If you copy someone’s work or use it in a way that was never authorized, there will be serious penalties to consider. Knowingly stealing copyrighted works can result in imprisonment and/or heavy fines. 

For more information on copyright, you can visit for more resources.


Additional Resources:

Copyright Office Main Site

University of North Texas – Copyright Law Basics

University of Minnesota Libraries – Copyright Basics

University of Michigan – Copyright Basics