Copyright law in the U.S. is governed by federal statute, namely the Copyright Act of 1976. The Copyright Act prevents the unauthorized copying of a work of authorship. However, only the copying of the work is prohibited–anyone may copy the ideas contained within a work. For example, a copyright could cover a written description of a machine, but the actual machine itself is not covered. Thus, no one could copy the written description, while anyone could use the description to build the described machine.
Copyright law protects “works of authorship.” The Copyright Act states that works of authorship include the following types of works:
- Literary works. Novels, nonfiction prose, poetry, newspaper articles and newspapers, magazine articles and magazines, computer software, software documentation and manuals, training manuals, manuals, catalogs, brochures, ads (text), and compilations such as business directories
- Musical works. Songs, advertising jingles, and instrumentals.
- Dramatic works. Plays, operas, and skits.
- Pantomimes and choreographic works. Ballets, modern dance, jazz dance, and mime works.
- Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works. Photographs, posters, maps, paintings, drawings, graphic art, display ads, cartoon strips and cartoon characters, stuffed animals, statues, paintings, and works of fine art.
- Motion pictures and other audiovisual works. Movies, documentaries, travelogues, training films and videos, television shows, television ads, and interactive multimedia works.
- Sound recordings. Recordings of music, sounds, or words.
- Architectural works. Building designs, whether in the form of architectural plans, drawings, or the constructed building itself.