What Do Copyright Laws Protect?

The world of intellectual property is vast. Most people have heard of trademarks, copyrights, and patents, but the details are kind of fuzzy. And many folks lump all of those protections together. So let’s clarify and dig into one of these items by answering the question, “What do copyright laws protect?”


If this topic already has you covering your ears and wishing it would go away, let’s talk. Perhaps you are ready to hand over your intellectual property protection to a professional and not have to think about it anymore. At Angie Avard Turner Law, LLC, I help creatives and other entrepreneurs protect what they create. Reserve your time to talk today.


What Do Copyright Laws Protect?

There are many misconceptions surrounding copyrights for those who don’t need to live and breathe intellectual property all day long. And for good reasons! It can be pretty confusing to sort out what copyright laws actually do.


What do copyright laws protect? They cover a vast range of creations.

In short, a copyright is a legal protection the government provides to authors of original works.


When we talk about copyright laws, the term “author” refers to the work’s creator, even if the creation isn’t literary. Copyright law protects a tangible form of the author’s idea, not the idea itself.


This area of intellectual property law puts control of the work in the hands of the author. That is, the creator has the right to determine whether or not someone else can copy or re-use the work.


There isn’t a comprehensive list of items that can have this protection, probably because the list would be almost unending. But in general, the following types of work can fall under copyright laws.


Literary Works

You do not have to be John Steinbeck or Maya Angelou to receive copyright protection for your work. Literary doesn’t necessarily mean “taught in your college English classes.” Any original, written creation counts. This includes:

  • Novels

  • Poems

  • Screenplays

  • Short Stories

  • Newspaper and Magazine Articles

  • Website Content

  • Sheet Music

  • Computer Software

  • Social Media Copy


Written works fall under the literary category of copyright protection.

As you can imagine, the amount of content in this category is enormous and grows by leaps and bounds every day. It grew as soon as I posted this blog to my website!


Graphic and Pictorial Works

Are you a visual creator? If so, this category covers your work. It can include all of the following, to name a few:

  • Photographs

  • Drawings

  • Maps

  • Paintings

  • Fashion Designs

  • Textiles

  • Sculptures and Carvings

  • Wallpaper Designs

  • Infographics


What about all those cell phone photos you have? Do copyright laws protect them? You bet! Each of your silly selfies is protected by intellectual property law. Since experts anticipate that we will take about 1.4 trillion photos in 2021, there is a lot of content in this copyright category.


Sound Recordings

On a recent thrift store adventure, my friend’s daughter found an old album of sound effects. It was a pretty amusing collection of sounds, and each one has copyright protection. Any original audio recordings fall under this area of copyright protection, including:

  • Songs

  • Spoken Word

  • Instrumental Music

  • Sound Effects

  • Live Recordings


Copyright laws protect sound recordings, too.

Architectural Works

Buildings and the plans that go into them can receive intellectual property protection. Once they are in a tangible form, all of the following can fall under copyright law:

  • Blueprints

  • Models

  • Drawings

  • Diagrams

  • Original Structures

Audiovisual Works

If you create something original that a person can watch on a screen, that creation has copyright protection. This area is obviously a newer part of intellectual property since video didn’t exist in 1886 when the world began to codify copyright law in the Berne Convention. This category includes the following items:

  • Television Shows

  • Movies

  • Animation

  • Video Games

  • Original Video Content for Social Media

Dramatic Works

Dramatic creations can also receive copyright protection. These works include:

  • Choreography

  • Musicals

  • Plays

  • Mime Routines

Be honest. You didn’t see “mime routines” coming, did you? I’d wager that most people would miss that one in a trivia contest, but it’s true. Original mime choreography is protectable.


What Doesn’t Fall Under Copyright Law?


Contrary to common belief, ideas are not protectable by copyright.

The list of things that copyright law covers is significant. It might be more straightforward to discuss the items that do not have this protection. Often, these works cause the most confusion around copyright law.


The following things are examples of items that do not fall under copyright law, even though many people think they do:

  • Ideas

  • Methods, Systems, Processes

  • Names and Titles

  • Slogans

  • Domain Names

  • Recipes

When Do Copyright Laws Take Effect?

As soon as your creation is in a tangible and complete (or mostly complete) form, it has protection under copyright law. So, for example, writing down the name of a screenplay you plan to write isn’t protectable. But once you’ve typed that whole screenplay, it is.


The great news for authors and creators is that you have this protection whether you legally register the copyright or not. The registration piece comes into play if you want to take legal action against someone who infringes on your intellectual property. At that point, you would need to register the copyright with the US government to proceed.


The US government grants copyrights and oversees infringement cases.

You do not need to have officially published something for it to be eligible for copyright protection. For intellectual property purposes, “publication” refers to making a work public. It does not mean that the work is published in the literary sense.


As an author, you can register your work before publication happens. Actually, this option is the safest and most cost-efficient way to register a copyright. Unpublished works may qualify for registration in a copyrighted collection. After publication, you can still register and protect your works, but each one must be filed separately. See how those costs can add up quickly?


My advice to clients and all business owners is to register your copyright for anything worth protecting. To me, that’s everything you create, but I also recognize that may not be feasible in all situations.


If you’re trying to decide if you should register a particular piece of intellectual property, consider whether you would be willing to take legal action against someone who infringes on it. If the answer is yes, then it’s worth pursuing copyright.


Ready to Protect Your Work?

Since I’m a creative maker, in addition to being an attorney, I am very passionate about helping people protect their work. Your efforts and genius are worth guarding. Schedule a time to talk and learn the next right step for you.




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