What is copyright?

whatiscopyrightCC0Copyright is a form of intellectual property law that protects works of art, literature, and other forms of communication. It is distinguished from patent law, which protects machines and processes, and trademark law, which protects brand names, slogans and logos. Copyright law creates property rights in original works, allowing the creator to control how they are distributed. In the United States, the Copyright Act of 1976, as amended, is the primary basis of federal copyright law. It provides protection to “original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.” [1]

Generally a photograph is fixed in a medium of expression the moment light is captured by the camera’s mechanism. So in most circumstances, as soon as you press the shutter button, you become the author and exclusive copyright owner of an original work, and no one may reproduce or distribute it without your permission. (There are exceptions, such as fair use and works made for hire.)

  1. 17 U.S.C. §102(a).

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