Copyright is a form of legal protection that allows authors and other creators to control their original, creative work. The work must also be "fixed in a tangible medium of expression" - written on a piece of paper, saved on a computer hard drive, or recorded on an audio or video tape. Copyright occurs automatically at the creation of a new work. In general, copyright holders have the exclusive right to do, and to authorize others to do, the following:
There are exceptions in the law that allow others to reuse copyrighted works, such as exceptions for libraries and educational institutions. Another exception is the well-known fair use provision, or Section 107 of U.S. copyright law.
Copyright protects literary, musical, dramatic, choreographic, pictorial, graphic, sculptural, audiovisual, and architectural works.
Examples of copyrightable works:
Copyright protection does not extend to facts, data, systems of operation, methods, principles, discoveries, and names, titles, and short phrases. However, trademark law may protect names, titles, and short phrases.
However, copyright may protect the tangible mediums that express these facts, ideas, and systems, such as:
Keep in mind that the tangible item, such as the article or book, might be protected, and not the fact, idea, or system within that article or book.
Need more clarification? Check out this explanation from the University of Michigan about why tables, charts, and graphs may or may not receive copyright protection.
For works created since March 1, 1989, copyright lasts from the moment a work is created until 70 years after the death of the author, except for works produced by a company/employer in which case the copyright lasts 120 years from the date of creation. Works created before this date can have various copyright term lengths. The Digital Copyright Slider can be used to help define how long the protection of an item may last.