A copyright is a statutory property right which grants to creators ( authors ) certain exclusive rights in their creations for a limited duration. Its purpose, as expressed in the Constitution, is to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts by providing economic incentive for creative activity.

Copyright protects intangible original works of authorship which are fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Put another way, copyright protects the expression of ideas, but not the ideas themselves. Copyright protects works such as books, pictorial, graphic and sculptural works, music, photographs, movies and computer programs.

Often described as a bundle of rights, a copyright includes the right: (1) to reproduce the copyrighted work; (2) to make derivative works (such as a movie from a novel); (3) to distribute copyrighted works to the public; (4) to perform, publicly, certain works (such as music); and, (5) to display, publicly, certain works (such as paintings).

Copyright arises upon creation and, under current law, endures for the life of the author plus 50 years. (The term of copyright for works created before 1978 is 75 years.) Copyright applies to both unpublished and published works.

Registration of a copyrighted work with the Copyright Office in Washington, D.C. is not required for existence of the copyright; however, it is a prerequisite to a lawsuit for copyright infringement and to certain legal remedies.

Copyright registration is simple and inexpensive. The registrant (who may be the author, including an employer or other person for whom a work made for hire was created, or a person or entity which has acquired the copyright) completes a printed form provided by the Copyright Office and returns it to the Office with a small fee and copies of the work. Transfers of copyright ownership (including exclusive licenses) must be in writing to be valid. The familiar copyright notice is no longer required on copies of works published after March 1, 1989. However, it is still in The Copyright Owner's interest to place a copyright notice on publicly distributed copies of published works. The notice should include the copyright symbol ( ) or the word "Copyright" or its abbreviation (Copr.), followed by the year of first publication of the work and the name of the Copyright Owner.