Skip to Main Content PCC Library Logo

Copyright: What is Copyright?

What is Copyright?

In the United States, copyright is a set of legal rights granted to an author or creator of an original work fixed in any tangible medium of expression.

Copyright protection covers the work the moment it is fixed in a tangible medium such as paper, computer code, film, canvas and paint, clay, analog or digital sound recordings, etc. Ideas are NOT protected; only the expression is protected.

A wide range of original works are eligible for copyright protection, including:

  • Literary works, such as books, articles, novels, poetry, web pages, blog postings, and even email messages 
  • Dramatic works such as plays
  • Artistic works including paintings, sculptures, and photography
  • Musical works, including accompanying words
  • Theatrical works including plays, mime, choreographic works
  • Architectural works
  • Sound recordings
  • Motion pictures and other audiovisual works

Works that are protected by copyright do not have to be published, do not have to bear the familiar copyright symbol, and do not have to be registered with the U.S. Register of Copyrights.

The Copyright Holder's Rights

When a work is protected by U.S. copyright, the rights holder has the exclusive right to:

  1. COPY the work, whether by hand, photocopier, scanner, camera, or other means
  2. DISTRIBUTE the work by sale, rental, lease, or lending, whether to colleagues, relatives, or five million friends on Facebook
  3. MODIFY the work by reformatting, resizing, translating, adapting it for the big screen, etc.
  4. DISPLAY the work in public or by transmission over a network
  5. PERFORM the work in public or by transmission over a network

Copyright holders also have the exclusive right to grant other people permission to use their works in any of the ways listed above.

Note: Simply owning a book, manuscript, painting, or other work does not give the possessor the copyright. Transfer of ownership of a protected object doesn't transfer the copyright. 

Helpful Links:
Copyright Basics