Copyright Definitions

Below are copyright definitions for many of the terms you may encounter.

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Anonymous Work

An anonymous work is a work without a natural person identified as the author.


Architectural Work

An architectural work is the design of a building as embodied in any tangible medium of expression, including a building, architectural plans, or drawings. The work includes the overall form as well as
the arrangement and composition of spaces and elements in the design, but does not include individual standard features.


Audiovisual Works

Audiovisual works are works that consist of a series of related images that are intended to be shown
by the use of machines or devices such as projectors, viewers, or electronic equipment, together with accompanying sounds, if any.



Under the copyright law, the creator of the original expression in a work is its author. The author is
also the owner of copyright unless there is a written agreement by which the author assigns the copyright to another person or entity, such as a publisher. In cases of works made for hire, the employer or commissioning party is considered to be the author.


Berne Convention

An international copyright treaty, the “Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, signed at Berne, Switzerland, on September 9, 1886, and all acts, protocols, and revisions thereto.”
The United States acceded to the Berne Convention effective March 1, 1989.


Best Edition

The best edition of a work is the edition, published in the United States at any time before the date
of deposit that the Library of Congress determines to be most suitable for its purposes. If two or
more versions have been published, the highest quality version available is the best edition.


Certificate of Registration

An official paper denoting that a particular copyright has been registered with the Copyright Office. Provided the claim is registered within 5 years of the date on which the work is first published, the
facts on a certificate of registration and the validity of the copyright are accepted by courts of law as self-evident unless later shown to be false.



The copyright claimant is the person or organization registering a copyright. The author of a work is
the original copyright claimant. The claimant may also be a person or organization to whom copyright has been transferred.


Collective Work

A collective work is a work, such as a periodical issue, anthology, or encyclopedia, in which a number
of contributions, constituting separate and independent works are assembled into a collective whole.



A compilation is a work formed by the collection and assembling of preexisting materials or of data
that are selected, coordinated, or arranged in such a way that the resulting work as a whole constitutes an original work of authorship. The term “compilation” includes collective works.


Computer Program

A computer program is a set of statements or instructions to be used directly or indirectly in a computer in order to bring about a certain result.



The material object, other than a phonorecord, in which the copyrighted work is first fixed, and from which the work can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.



A form of protection provided by the laws of the United States for “original works of authorship” including literary, dramatic, musical, architectural, cartographic, choreographic, pantomimic, pictorial, graphic, sculptural, and audiovisual creations. Copyright literally means the right to copy, but has come to mean that body of exclusive rights granted by law to copyright owners for protection of their work.


Copyright Notice

The copyright notice consists of three elements. They are the “c” in a circle (©), the year of first publication, and the name of the owner of copyright. A copyright notice is no longer legally required to secure copyright on works first published on or after March 1, 1989, but it does provide certain benefits.


Copyright Owner

Copyright owner, with respect to any one of the exclusive rights comprised in a copyright, refers to the owner of that particular right.



This is the person the Copyright Office will contact if it has questions about an application and copyright claim. Completion of the name, email address and correspondence address is mandatory.



A work is created when it is fixed in tangible form for the first time. Where a work is prepared over a period of time, the portion of it that has been fixed at any particular time constitutes the work as of that time, and where the work has been prepared in different versions, each version constitutes a separate work.



The material of an original work of authorship being registered that are submitted to the Copyright Office to support the claim of copyright is known as the deposit. In certain cases such as works of three-dimensional visual arts, identifying material such as an illustration or photograph may be sent instead of the actual item.


Derivative Work

A derivative work is a work based upon one or more preexisting works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted. A work consisting of editorial revisions, annotations, elaborations, or other modifications, which, as a whole, represent an original work of authorship, is considered a derivative work.



To display a work means to show a copy of it, either directly or by means of a film, slide, television image, or any other device or process or, in the case of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, to show individual images non-sequentially.


Exclusive Rights (of the Copyright Owner)

• To reproduce the work.
• To prepare derivative works.
• To distribute the work to the public by sale, rental, lease, or lending.
• In the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works, to perform the work publicly.
• In the case of sound recordings, to perform the copyrighted work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.


Fair Use

Certain limited use of a copyrighted work is allowed and is not considered as infringement. Fair use of a copyrighted work is allowed for the limited purposes of non-commercial comment, criticism, news reporting, scholarship, classroom use, or research and is not an infringement of copyright.



A work is fixed in a tangible medium of expression when its embodiment in a copy or phonorecord, by or under the authority of the author, is sufficiently permanent or stable to permit it to be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated for a period of more than transitory duration.


Geneva Phonograms Convention

The “Geneva Phonograms Convention” is the Convention for the Protection of Producers of Phonograms Against Unauthorized Duplication of Their Phonograms, concluded at Geneva, Switzerland, on October 29, 1971.11


International Copyright Agreements

Include the:

• Universal Copyright Convention
• Geneva Phonograms Convention
• Berne Convention
• WTO Agreement
• WIPO Copyright Treaty
• WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty



As a general matter, copyright infringement occurs when a copyrighted work is reproduced, distributed, performed, publicly displayed, or made into a derivative work without the permission of the copyright owner.


ISBN Number

The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a numerical identifier intended to assist the international community in identifying and ordering published books.


Joint Work

A joint work is a work prepared by two or more authors with the intention that their contributions be merged into inseparable or interdependent parts of a unitary whole.


Library of Congress Number

The Library of Congress Control Number is assigned by the Library at its discretion to assist librarians in acquiring and cataloging works.


Limitation of Claim

A limitation of claim is required on a copyright application when the work contains or is based on previously registered material, previously published material, material in the public domain or material not owned by the claimant. The purpose is to exclude such material from the claim and identify the new material upon which the present claim is based.


Literary Works

Literary Works include a wide variety of works: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, textbooks, reference works, directories, catalogs, advertising copy, compilations of information, computer programs and databases.


Mandatory Deposit

Copies of all works under copyright protection that have been published in the United States are required to be deposited with the Copyright Office within three months of the date of first publication.


Moral Rights

Moral rights refer to the rights of attribution and integrity to authors of certain works of the visual arts. The right of attribution ensures that artists are correctly identified with the works of art they create and that they are not identified with works created by others. The right of integrity allows artists to protect their works against modifications and destruction that are prejudicial to the artists’ honor or reputation.


Motion Picture

Motion pictures are audiovisual works consisting of a series of related images which, when shown in succession, impart an impression of motion, together with accompanying sounds, if any.



To perform a work means to recite, render, play, dance, or act it, either directly or by means of any device or process or, in the case of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, to show its images in any sequence or to make the sounds accompanying it audible.


Performance Rights Organizations

A performance rights organization is an association, corporation, or other entity that licenses the public performance of non-dramatic musical works on behalf of copyright owners of such works.

Examples are the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI), and SESAC.


Performing Arts

Performing Arts are dramatic works such as a screenplay, play or other script, a pantomime, or a choreographic work that are intended to be performed. Generally, these include works that have been created for television, radio, movies or stage and may be registered with or without music. These works usually include spoken text, plot, and directions for action.



Phonorecords are material objects (CDs, tapes, etc) in which sounds, other than those accompanying a motion picture or other audiovisual work from which the sounds can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.



Preregistration is a new procedure provided by the U.S. Copyright Office for certain classes of works that have a history of pre-release infringement. Preregistration serves as a place-holder for limited purposes, mainly where a copyright owner needs to sue for infringement while a work is still being prepared for commercial release. Preregistration is not a substitute for registration, and its use is only appropriate in certain circumstances.



A “pseudonymous work” is a work in which the author is identified under a fictitious name.



Publication has a technical meaning in copyright law. To publish a work means to distribute the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending.

Publication also includes offering to distribute to a group of persons for purposes of further distribution, public performance, or public display. A public performance or display of a work does not of itself constitute publication. Generally, publication occurs on the date on which copies of the work are first made available to the public.



To perform or display a work “publicly” means:

1) to perform or display it at a place open to the public or at any place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances is gathered; or

2) to transmit or otherwise communicate a performance or display of the work to a place specified by clause (1) or to the public, by means of any device or process, whether the members of the public capable of receiving the performance or display receive it in the same place or in separate places and at the same time or at different times.


Public Domain

The public domain is not a place. A work of authorship is in the public domain if it is no longer under copyright protection or if it failed to meet the requirements for copyright protection. Works in the public domain may be used freely without the permission of the former copyright owner.



The official filing in the Copyright Office of a document having to do with copyright, such as a transfer of ownership or a grant of a security interest. The purpose of recordation is to make a public record of the facts in the document. The document must bear the actual signature of the person who executed it, or it must be accompanied by a sworn or official certification that it is a true copy of the original signed document.



Registration is the registration of a claim of copyright filed with the U.S. Copyright Office including the filing of an application, payment of a filing fee and deposit of the material being registered.


Rights & Permissions

Rights & Permissions refers to the person and / or organization to be contacted about a registered copyright, or for permission to use the copyrighted work.



Serials are works issued in successive parts bearing numerical or chronological designations and intended to be continued indefinitely. Examples are periodicals, newspapers, magazines, bulletins, newsletters, annuals, journals, proceedings of societies, and other similar works.


Sound Recording

A sound recording is a work that results from the fixation of a series of musical, spoken, or other sounds, regardless of the nature of the material objects in which they are embodied. A sound recording does not include the sounds accompanying a motion picture or other audiovisual work.

Copyright in a sound recording protects the particular series of sounds embodied in the sound recording. Copyright registration for a sound recording alone is not the same as registration for the musical, dramatic, or literary work recorded. The underlying work may be registered in its own right apart from any recording of the performance.


Transfer of Copyright Ownership

A transfer of copyright ownership is an assignment, mortgage, exclusive license, or any other conveyance, alienation, or hypothecation of a copyright or of any of the exclusive rights comprised in a copyright, whether or not it is limited in time or place of effect, but not including a nonexclusive license.



To transmit a performance or display is to communicate it by any device or process whereby images or sounds are received beyond the place from which they are sent.


Useful Article

A useful article is an article having an intrinsic utilitarian function that is not merely to portray the appearance of the article or to convey information. An article that is normally a part of a useful article is considered a useful article.


Visual Arts

Visual Arts works include two-dimensional and three-dimensional works of fine, graphic, and applied art, photographs, prints and art reproductions, maps, technical drawings, and architectural works.


Work Made for Hire

Although the general rule is that the person who creates the work is its author, there is an exception to that principle. The exception is a work made for hire, which is a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment; or a work specially ordered or commissioned in certain specified circumstances. When a work qualifies as a work made for hire, the employer, or commissioning party, is considered to be the author.