A Resource For Understanding Federal Copyright As It Applies to the Internet


A Primer: The Basics of Copyright

Copyrightable Works

The Copyright Act of 1976 provides protection for "original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, . . . , from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwsie communicated." [1]

"Originality"requires only that the author contribute some independent thought towards creation.

Almost any tangible expression created by an individual, corporation, or joint entity, such as painting, drawings, photographs, movies, or web pages, is likely to satisfy the "originality" requirement. Indeed, any author that does not merely "cut and paste" the expression of others or rely solely on commonly used phrases like "cyberspace," may claim that his or her work is "original" for copyright purposes.

"Fixation" requires that the work be "sufficiently permanent or stable to permit it to be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated for a period of more than transitory duration." [2]

Web pages stored on a computer hard drive, a floppy disc,or a CD rom are "fixed." Web pages that now only exists on the World Wide Web are also "fixed" under this definition. There is a debate as to whether the temporary storage of a software program or web graphic in the random access memory of a personal computer would meet this "fixation" requirement, although this "storage" would seem to lack even the low "originality" threshold.[3]

While copyright law orginally contemplated the protection of author's rights in expression in printed form, copyright law and policy has expanded and changed in respond to technological developments in mass communications. Courts readily concede that Internet communications, like other forms of technology-based communications, may be protected by copyright law.

More Information:

Rights of the Copyright Holder:
The scope of legal protection afforded to copyright owners, particularly when those owners exhibit work and distribute expressive works on the World Wide Web.
Limitations on Copyright
Limitations on the scope of copyright protections, particularly as these limitations may pertain to the use and development of expressive works published online


1. See Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. § 102 (2001).

2. See Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. § 101.

3. See Bruce P. Keller, "Internet and Online Software: Copyright" in Fourth Annual Internet Law Institution, Practicing Law Institute, Vol. 1, 169,175 (2000).

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