In this article I explore basic concepts of United States (U.S.) copyright law. Copyright is a kind of property which is analogous to, but not the same as, those rights one would obtain when purchasing a house. Property rights which the copyright owner initially owns in a particular subject matter comprise:

(i) Reproduction;

(ii) Preparation of subsequent subject matter based upon the original;

(iii) Distribution of copies to the public by sale, rental lease, lending or other ownership transfers;

(iv) Public performance; and

(v) Public display

Furthermore, these rights may be transferred separately from each other. Although these rights  automatically exist within particular subject matter, copyright protection requires registration of the subject matter in a federal agency known as the U. S.  Copyright Office [copyright office). 

Which kinds of creative subject matter are eligible for U. S. copyright protection?  Clients often request protection for copyright eligible literary subject matter (otherwise known as ‘works’) such as hand written or typed manuscripts. However, computer related software and source code are also eligible for registration as literary works. Furthermore, copyright registration for computer related subject matter is significantly less expensive than patent protection, and there are generally no submission deadlines for these works.

Clients also often request copyright registration for visual art works such as two-dimensional designs, photographs and paintings. Other kinds of subject matter which are eligible for a copyright registration comprise:

  • Musical works, including lyrics;
  • Dramatic works, including music;
  • Pantomimes and choreographic words;
  • Motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
  • Sound recordings resulting from musical works or other sources; and
  • Architectural works.

To further qualify for U. S. copyright protection a work should (i) comprise sufficient originality and creativity, and (ii) be expressed upon a tangible medium.

Unfortunately, many persons mistakenly request protection for works which (i) do not comprise copyright, and (ii) therefore cannot be registered with the copyright office. This is particularly true for two-dimensional logos without enough design elements to fulfill creativity and originality requirements.

© 2022 Adrienne B. Naumann, Esq. Ms. Naumann does not endorse or sponsor the advertisements at


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