The subject matter covered by the law of copyright is rather broad and includes “original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.”4 Works of authorship include the following categories: 5
- literary works;
- musical works, including any accompanying words;
- dramatic works, including any accompanying music;
- pantomimes and choreographic works;
- pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works;
- motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
- sound recordings; and
- architectural works.
Copyright protection attaches to original works of authorship fixed in a permanent medium. Note that an original work of authorship is not protected as soon as it is created; rather protection attaches when it is fixed onto a permanent medium so that it can be reproduced and perceived by others at a later time. It is not the act of creation but rather the act of saving or archiving one’s creation in a tangible medium that grants copyright protection to the creator.
For example, if a poet constructs a new poem in her mind and speaks it aloud in a public place where others can hear it, no copyright attaches to this new creation. Copyright attaches only when the work is fixed in an existing or yet to be invented “tangible medium of expression” that allows it to be reproduced and perceived by others later. Writing the poem on paper with a pen or pencil will suffice, as would recording a reading of the poem on tape or in digital form saved as an audio or video file on a computer, compact disk, smartphone, DVD or some future medium of storage not yet in existence.
Likewise, a new dance routine that is created by a choreographer is not copyrighted until it is “saved” in some form such as by being videotaped or by the choreographer writing down the steps in the dance on paper or some other permanent form through which the dance steps can later be communicated to and reproduced by others. Thus, a photographer who snaps a photograph automatically obtains a copyright to it when the image is captured on film or saved in digital form to the camera’s internal memory, or in an external SD card or other removable storage. And a writer’s words are copyrighted as soon as they are transferred to paper by a pen or other writing implement or saved onto a computer’s hard disk or removable storage (e.g., burned onto a CD or DVD or saved onto a USB thumb drive or other removable storage media).
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