A copyright is an intellectual property right that allows its holder to prevent other parties from using or appropriating a creative work. The work can be anything from a story to a painting to a song, though it must be fixed in a tangible medium to be eligible for copyright protection. An “idea” which is not yet been committed to a tangible medium, such as paper or recording, cannot be copyrighted.
Copyright protection generally lasts for 70 years after the death of the author, though other periods apply to works-for-hire.
Copyright protection is subject to various exceptions, most notably the “fair use” exception. This allows people to use copyrighted works for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, education and research, though this rule is subject to a careful balancing test to ensure that the use does not harm the interests of the copyright holder.
While copyrights can be registered with the United States Copyright Office, unlike patents, the protection can apply even if the work is not registered.