Works of Authorship under Copyright Law

The Copyright Act uses the phrase “works of authorship” to describe the types of works that are protected by copyright law. This phrase is purposefully broad to avoid the need to rewrite the Copyright Act every time a new “medium” was discovered. Congress enumerated eight works of authorship within the Copyright Act as follows:

1. literary works;

2. musical works, including any accompanying words;

3. dramatic works, including any accompanying music;

4. pantomimes and choreographic works;

5. pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works;

6. motion pictures and other audiovisual works;

7. sound recordings; and

8. architectural works.

Most protected works fall into one of the specified categories. These categories are broader than they initially appear to be. For instance, computer programs and most compilations are registered as “literary works,” while maps and architectural plans are registered as “pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works.”

Several categories of material are generally not eligible for statutory copyright protection. Categories that are not eligible include the following:

works that have not been fixed in a tangible form of expression;

titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; familiar symbols or designs; mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, or coloring; mere listings of ingredients or contents;

works consisting entirely of information that is common property and containing no original authorship, for example: standard calendars, height and weight charts, tape measures, and rulers, and lists or tables taken from public documents or other common sources; and

works by the U.S. government.

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