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copyright n: a person's exclusive right to reproduce, publish, or sell his or her original work of authorship (as a literary, musical, dramatic, artistic, or architectural work) see also common-law copyright , fair use at use , infringe intellectual property at property , international copyright , original , public domain compare patent , trademark NOTE: Copyrights are governed by the Copyright Act of 1976 contained in title 17 of the U.S. Code. The Act protects published or unpublished works that are fixed in a tangible medium of expression from which they can be perceived. The Act does not protect matters such as an idea, process, system, or discovery. Protection under the Act extends for the life of the creator of the work plus fifty years after his or her death. For works created before January 1, 1978, but not copyrighted or in the public domain, the copyright starts on January 1, 1978, and extends for the same period as for other works, but in any case will not expire before December 31, 2002. Prior to the enactment of the Act, copyright protection was available for unpublished works only under common law. The Act abolishes the common-law rights, as well as any rights available under state statute, in favor of the rights available under the provisions of the Act. The Act provides for certain exceptions, however, including rights to protection for works not fixed in a tangible medium of expression, and rights regarding any cause of action arising from events occurring before January 1, 1978.
Source: Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Law ©1996. Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. Published under license with Merriam-Webster, Incorporated.