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IP Law: Copyright

This guide includes a copyright law primer, practical guides for working in the field, and legal research resources.

Copyright Law Primer

Copyright is a legal concept that grants exclusive rights to the creators of original works. The law's spirit is to incentivize creators to produce new and innovative works by giving them control over how their creations are used.


Copyright law subject matter includes

The following subject matters are available for copyright protection:

1) literary works;

2) musical works;

3) dramatic works;

4) pantomime and choreography;

5) pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works;

6) motion pictures and other audiovisual works;

7) sound recordings;

8) architectural works;


The Constitutional requirements for procuring a copyright are:

For any work that falls within the above subject matter, the work must meet two constitutional requirements:

1) Original works of authorship

A work is original if it is

  •  independently created by the author and
  • possesses some modicum of creativity.

The standard here requires that the work is the result of an independent effort of the author. The work can be influenced from elsewhere but cannot be verbatim or substantially similar reproduction. The level of creativity required is generally relatively low. The work only needs minimal creative expression to be eligible for copyright. 

2) Fixed in a tangible medium of expression.  

Fixed in a tangible medium of expression: a work must be fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Any medium will suffice if it permits the work to be "perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated." Ideas or concepts alone are not eligible for copyright protection. To gain protection, the idea must be expressed in some tangible form--written on paper, recorded on a CD, or saved to a hard drive. 


The exact limits of these definitions are further explained by statute and case law. Copyright law is a rich and vibrant body of intellectual property with numerous concepts and ideas that must be explored and understood. If you are a novice, begin your research by reading one of the works under the "Preliminary Analysis" page, such as Understanding Copyright Law, What is a Copyright? a short and happy guide to copyright, or copyright in a nutshell to gain competency in the fundamentals of the law. 


Good luck, and carry on. 



U.S. Copyright Office

The U.S. Copyright Office has been a foundational institution in copyright law for over 150 years. Initially, the Copyright Office was a part of the Library of Congress since 1870 but became a separate department in 1897. The Copyright Office registers copyright claims, records information about copyright ownership, provides information to the public, and assists Congress and other parts of the government on a wide range of copyright issues. 

The Office is led by the Register of Copyrights, which administers federal copyright law. The Copyright Office examines hundreds of thousands of copyright claims annually, resulting in an average of over half a million registrations annually. The Copyright Office serves as a conduit for the Library of Congress, providing certain works of authorship, known as copyright deposits, to the Library for its collections. 

Duties of the Copyright Office

  •  administering statutory licensing;
  •  the Register of Copyrights is the principal advisor to Congress on national and international copyright matters;
  • developing regulations concerning areas of copyright law;
  • deliver domestic and international policy analysis and advice;
  • provide counsel to the courts when significant copyright questions arise in litigation.

You can learn more here

The U.S. Copyright Office is the primary agency for federal copyright protections. If you are practicing copyright law, researching copyright law, or trying to learn how to register your own copyright, their website is the first and most important source for finding the law, procedures, and information you need to succeed. 

How to use this guide

Trademark law is not scary or difficult. The key is to be organized and prepared. This guide was built to facilitate legal research following the Rombauer method. The Rombauer method is a dynamic, reliable, and flexible legal research methodology that focuses on building a reliable base of understanding and growing your knowledge in sustainable steps. 

The Rombauer Framework is:

  1. Preliminary analysis (aka get organized and get some context)
  2. Search for Statutes 
  3. Search for Mandatory Case Precedent 
  4. Search for Persuasive Case Precedent 
  5. Refine, Double-Check, and Update 

We suggest reviewing the practical guide series that Bloomberg, Westlaw, or Lexis provides to utilize this guide best. Next, read one of the listed handbooks or practical materials (such as West's In a Nutshell series or Lexis' Understanding Trademark Law). Once you have a solid understanding of the fundamentals, begin preparing your research query. Is your issue state or federal or both? Which statute[s] is your problem going to fall under? What are your key search terms? What element of trade secret law do you need to understand better to make your case? What are the best defenses to your argument? Or, for research purposes, what is the relevant legislative history behind this? Generate a list of questions and key terms. Then dive in. With proper preparation, you should know from your preliminary analysis which issues are at stake and what primary sources you need to explore for your issue. And, of course, don't forget to check the currentness of the statutes and cases and ensure you have the most up-to-date information before finishing your research.

For more, check out this article by the University of Washington School of Law.


Good luck, and have fun!

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