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copyright: an overview

The U.S. Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 101 - 810, is Federal legislation enacted by Congress under its Constitutional grant of authority to protect the writings of authors. See U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 8. Changing technology has led to an ever expanding understanding of the word "writings". The Copyright Act now reaches architectural design, software, the graphic arts, motion pictures, and sound recordings. See 106 of the act. Given the scope of the Federal legislation and its provision precluding inconsistent state law, the field is almost exclusively a Federal one. See 301 of the act.

A copyright gives the owner the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, perform, display, or license his work. See 106 of the act. The owner also receives the exclusive right to produce or license derivatives of his or her work. See 201(d) of the act. Limited exceptions to this exclusivity exist for types of "fair use", such as book reviews. See 107 of the act. To be covered by copyright a work must be original and in a concrete "medium of expression." See 102 of the act. Under current law, works are covered whether or not a copyright notice is attached and whether or not the work is registered.

The federal agency charged with administering the act is the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress. See 701 of the act. Its regulations are found in Parts 201 - 204 of title 37 of the Code of Federal Regulations.

In 1989 the U.S. joined the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works.

     

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