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A guide to current copyright regulations, fair use, and the public domain.

What is Protected?

Copyright protections apply to original works of authorship that have been fixed to a particular tangible medium.

"The fixation need not be directly perceptible so long as it may be communicated with the aid of a machine or device." (That is, if you can play it, watch it, listen to it, touch it, or read it, it's protected.)

Fixed, protected works include:

  • 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
  • Architectural works

However, some things must be kept free for all to use, and can therefore NOT be put under copyright protection, such as:

  • Facts
  • Ideas
  • Concepts
  • Principles
  • Titles

 -- Adapted from Copyright Basics [PDF], United States Copyright Office

Copyright, Patent, Trademark

Do trademarks, copyrights, and patents protect the same things?

"No. Trademarks, copyrights, and patents protect different types of intellectual property:
  • A trademark typically protects brand names and logos used on goods and services.
  • A copyright protects an original artistic or literary work.
  • A patent protects an invention.
For example, if you invent a new kind of vacuum cleaner, you would apply for a patent to protect the invention itself. You would apply to register a trademark to protect the brand name of the vacuum cleaner. And you might register a copyright for the TV commercial that you use to market the product."


-- Adapted from Basic Facts About Trademarks [PDF], United States Patent & Trademark Office

Subject Guide

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Vicky Ludas Orlofsky
Research Services Department


The information presented here is for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice.