Understanding copyright laws
Copyright is a way of protecting intellectual property. Legally, it can take many different forms, acting as a way for people to reserve their rights to a particular idea, invention, name, essay/printed work, etc. Both published and unpublished ideas and works can be protected under copyright laws. Copyright is meant to extend to all individuals the right to protect and control the reproduction, distribution, use and alteration of their intellectual and physical property.
Outlined in the U.S. Constitution over two centuries ago, copyright was meant to give individuals an economic incentive to be creative and to contribute to the new nation. The idea is simple: if you work hard and create something unique and valuable to the local or national community, the law will protect your right to profit and benefit from that creativity and initiative.
Getting to Know Copyright
It's important to note, however, that copyright law does not extend to an idea in perpetuity. At one time, American copyright lasted for 14 years, a period that could be doubled if the original author was still alive. This period of copyright protection is constantly changing, and is a point of contention in many industries: for instance, major movie studios would prefer to widely extend copyrights beyond death, so that prominent movie stars can still be used for commercials and other advertising purposes years after their passing.
For those who think they have a unique and useful idea worth protecting, then the next step is to register it. Copyright registration is the act of placing on record the name of the work in question as well as the individual behind it. In a case where someone may try to steal the idea or try to profit from something similar, the original registrant will have a legal claim to any profits and will need to consult a copyright attorney or a commercial lawyer. Those owning copyright agreements must, however, consider "fair use" in cases of possible infringement.
What Can Be Copyrighted?
There a number of different types of work that can be protected by copyright law. The list includes literary works, musical pieces, dramatic publications, pantomimes and choreography, graphics, motion pictures, sound recordings and architectural designs.