What does Copyright Protect?
What Copyright Protects
Here in the information age, virtually all intellectual creations can be protected by some form of intellectual property law. Intellectual property divides the universe of intellectual creations into three domains: copyrights, trademarks and patents. In a nutshell, copyright protects expression, trademark protects names, and patents protect ideas.
To see how this plays out, let's take an example of The Widgets Book, an illustrated book on how to widgets. The author is a renowned widget scientist who also manufactures and sells Widgets. In this case, the illustrations and text of the book would constitute expression, and would be protected under copyright. The name Widgets would indicate the author as the source of the widgets, and could be protected by trademark. The actual idea of how to create the widgets as described in the book could be protected by patent.
This example is helpful in that it shows what is NOT covered by copyright. In the context of music, you can copyright the musical composition and the sound recording, but you cannot copyright the name of the band (see trademark for that). In the case of a transactional website that processes copyright registrations online, you can copyright the content of the website, and you can copyright the software powers the website, but you cannot copyright the name or the domain name of the website (see trademark for that), nor can you copyright the idea of processing copyright registrations online (see patent for that).
Copyright protects expression. The Copyright Act of 1976 states that the items of expression can include literary, dramatic, and musical works; pantomimes and choreography; pictorial, graphic and sculptural works; audio-visual works; sound recordings; and architectural works. An original expression is eligible for copyright protection as soon as it is fixed in a tangible form.
Consequently, almost any original expression that is fixed in a tangible form is protected as soon as it is expressed. For example, a graphic created in Photoshop is protected as soon as the file is saved to disk. This Web page was protected as soon as I stopped typing and saved the .html file.
As you can see, most of the items that you are likely to encounter on the net are eligible for copyright protection, including the text of web pages, ASCII text documents, contents of email and Usenet messages, sound files, graphics files, executable computer programs and computer program listings.