Copyright protection arises automatically (referred to as common law copyright) when an original work of authorship is fixed in a tangible medium of expression. The original work need not be published for copyright protection to exist. Thus, registration of your work with the Copyright Office is optional, but you need to be registered in order to file an infringement suit. Additionally, you can only register a copyright if you own the rights to the work: by your own authorship, by assignment, or by will or inheritance. Thus, copyright is the right of the author of the work or the author's heirs or assignees, and not one who only possesses the physical work itself.
Original works of authorship include literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. A copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed. The following are some examples of what may be copyrighted.
A website may be protected by copyright. This includes writings, artwork, photographs and other forms of authorship protected by copyright. Copyright law, however, does not protect domain names. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a nonprofit organization that has assumed the responsibility for domain name system management, administers the assignation of domain names through accredited registers.
Names, Titles, Slogans or Logo
Copyright does not protect names, titles, slogans, or short phrases. In some cases, these items may be protected as trademarks. However, copyright protection may be available for logo artwork that contains sufficient authorship. In some circumstances, an artistic logo may also be protected as a trademark.
Copyright does not protect ideas, concepts, systems, or methods of doing something. You may, however, express your ideas in writing or drawings and claim copyright in this expression, but that copyright will not protect the idea itself.
Copyright law defines "architectural work" as "the design of a building embodied in any tangible medium of expression, including a building, architectural plans, or drawings." Copyright protection extends to any architectural work created on or after December 1, 1990. Additionally, architectural works that were unconstructed and embodied in unpublished plans or drawings on that date and were constructed by December 31, 2002 are eligible for protection. Architectural designs embodied in buildings constructed prior to December 1, 1990, are not eligible for copyright protection.
A food recipe is not protected under copyright law. But where a recipe or formula is accompanied by substantial literary expression in the form of an explanation or directions, or when there is a collection of recipes as in a cookbook, there may be a basis for copyright protection. Please be advised that if you have secret ingredients to a recipe that you do not wish to be revealed, you should not submit your recipe for registration, because applications and deposit copies are public records.
Copyright law does not protect sightings, for example of a deceased celebrity. However, copyright law will protect your photo (or other depiction) of your sighting of that person. Once your photo is registered in the Copyright Office, no one can lawfully use your photo of your sighting, although someone else may file their own photo of a sighting.
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