Copyright provides protection for creative works, such as books and articles, photographs, musical compositions, movies and plays. It also covers business output such as software code and website content. Unlike patents, copyright does not protect the underlying idea, only the expression of the idea. For example, over the years there have been several movies made based on the concept of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Each of those movies qualify for copyright protection though that protection does not prohibit others from creating works based on Shakespeare’s concept. Still, to qualify for copyright, the creative output must show a high degree of originality.
Copyright protection typically lasts for the life of the creator, plus 70 years past death. Where the creator is a business, the term is finite – either 95 years from the date of publication of the work or 120 years from the creation, whichever comes first.
There is no requirement to register the work to obtain copyright protection. Copyright protection starts at the creation of the work. However, registration does provide important benefits. Registration allows the owner of the copyrighted work to bring suit against those who infringe the copyright. With registration there is a presumption that the copyright is valid, though a court can invalidate the copyright during an infringement proceeding. Registration also provides constructive notice to others of the existence of the copyright, making it harder for an infringer to claim he or she was unaware of the copyright. In some jurisdictions, registration can also be used to prevent the importation of goods which would infringe the copyright.
Copyright gives the owner very specific rights. The copyright owner has the exclusive right to reproduce the work, make derivative works, distribute the work, and perform or display the work in public. That also means that the owner has the right to license the work to others, either exclusively or non-exclusively. Under certain conditions the owner may be required to provide a license, under a concept called compulsory licensing.