A copyright gives the owner of a creative work the right to keep others from using the work without the owner’s permission. The key to understanding copyright law is to understand the difference between an idea and the expression of the idea. Copyright applies only to a particular expression, not to the ideas or facts underlying the expression. For instance, copyright may protect a particular song, novel or computer game about a romance in space, but it cannot protect the underlying idea of having a love affair among the stars.
More specifically, a creative work (often referred to as a “work of authorship”) must meet all of these three criteria to be protected by copyright:
It must be original. In other words, the author must have created rather than copied it.
It must be fixed in a tangible (concrete) medium of expression. For example, it might be expressed on paper, audio or video tape, computer disk, clay or canvas.
It must have at least some creativity—that is, it must be produced by an exercise of human intellect. There is no hard and fast rule as to how much creativity is enough. To give an example, it must go beyond the creativity found in the telephone white pages, which involve a non-discretionary alphabetic listing of telephone numbers rather than a creative selection of listings.
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