Close Menu

What is a copyright?

A copyright in a work arises by operation of law when an original work or authorship is fixed in a tangible medium of expression. “Original” means the author independently created the work (did not copy it from another) and the work possesses at least a minimal level of creativity.

The required level of creativity to merit copyright protection is extremely low. The vast majority of works make the grade easily no matter how crude or obvious.

Originality of a work does not require that the work be novel. The work is protectable even if similar to other works as long as the similarity is fortuitous, not the result of copying.

Copyright protection, however, does not exist for ideas, procedures, systems, processes, principles or concepts. Protection is only available for the tangible expression of these items under what is called the merger doctrine. In other words, an idea cannot be copyrighted, but the expression of the idea may be and others would be entitled to form their own expression of the same idea without infringing on another’s copyright.

A copyright is automatically created when an author or artist creates the work. Registration with the United States Copyright Office is not required to “obtain” a copyright, but is necessary to bring an action in court for copyright infringement.

Please Note: Rabin Kammerer Johnson provides these FAQ’s for informational purposes only, and you should not interpret this information as legal advice. If you want advice as to how the law might apply to the specific facts and circumstances of your case, please contact one of our attorneys.