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Copyright Definitions

Copyright protection affords authors and artists protection from having others benefit financially – or creatively – from their work. Knowing some key terms related to copyrights can help you get a better understanding of this often complicated area of law. For more information and resources related to copyrights and other forms of intellectual property, such as patents and trademarks, please visit FindLaw's Intellectual Property section.

Berne Convention: Formally called the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, this is an international treaty that offers copyright protection to foreign works under certain conditions. It was first signed in Berne, Switzerland in 1886, and the United States joined in March 1989.

Certificate of Registration: An official paper denoting that a particular copyright has been registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. Registration is no longer required, but can be helpful in protecting a copyrighted work.

Copy: The material object in which the copyrighted work (except sound recordings) is first fixed, meaning that it can be perceived or reproduced.

Copyright: A type of protection provided to "original works of authorship" that are "fixed in a tangible form." Copyright protection is available to certain categories of works including musical, literary, dramatic, choreographic, and audiovisual works. Copyright protection provides various exclusive rights to the copyright owner.

Copyright Notice: The copyright notice consists of: the "c" in a circle (©), the year the work was first published, and the copyright owner's name. A copyright notice is not required for works first published on or after March 1, 1989.

Deposit: The copies or phonorecords of a work that are placed in the U.S. Copyright Office to support a copyright claim, which are also part of the public record. Under the Copyright Act of 1976, there are mandatory deposit requirements.

Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA): The DMCA is an amendment to the U.S. copyright laws enacted to address technological advances and how they have affected copyright laws. The DMCA makes it a criminal act to: 1) produce and disseminate devices, services, or technology that evade measures that control access to copyrighted works, 2) even if there is no actual copyright infringement, makes it a criminal act to circumvent an access control, and 3) increased penalties for copyright infringement done through the Internet. The DMCA also addresses the role of online service providers in copyright infringement.

Document: In the context of copyrights, a "document" refers to the paper that relates to the ownership of a copyright or any other matter that involves a copyright. Although no recording the document is no longer required, there are benefits to recording them in the U.S. Copyright Office for the public record.

Phonorecord: The material object in which sounds are fixed, meaning that they can be perceived or reproduced. Examples of phonorecords are LP vinyl disks, cassette tapes, and compact discs. Phonorecords do not include sounds that accompany a movie or other audiovisual work.

Publish: The act of distributing copies or phonorecords to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership. It is also considered publication if there is an offer to distribute copies or phonorecords to a group for the purpose of further public display, public performance, or distribution.

Recordation: The act of filing a copyright document (such as an initial application or a transfer of copyright) with the U.S. Copyright Office. Recordation makes the facts in the document part of the public record.

Sound Recording: A sound recording is a work that results from the fixation of a series of spoken, musical, or other sounds. The underlying work can be copyrighted separately from the sound recording.

Getting Legal Help

If you have any questions or concerns about the copyright definitions listed in this article or copyright law in general, you may want to contact an intellectual property attorney in your area.

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