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RPInfo: Copyright and the World Wide Web

© - What's Protected
© - Fair Use
© - Additional Sources

Copyright has become an increasingly important and controversial topic since the advent of the World Wide Web, a medium designed to share information quickly and easily. The technology allows and even encourages the replication of all kinds of materials. Anyone involved with publishing materials on the Web would do well to become familiar with the latest developments in and interpretations of copyright law.

Protecting and Encouraging Original Expression

U.S. copyright law protects almost anything an individual can create. The following legal definition of copyright explicitly names the types of materials covered by this controversial and ever-changing federal law:

Copyright protects "original works of authorship" that are fixed in a tangible form of expression. The fixation need not be directly perceptible, so long as it may be communicated with the aid of a machine or device. Copyrightable works include the following categories:
  1. literary works;
  2. musical works, including any accompanying words;
  3. dramatic works, including any accompanying music;
  4. pantomimes and choreographic works;
  5. pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works;
  6. motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
  7. sound recordings; and
  8. architectural works.
These categories should be viewed quite broadly: for example, computer programs and most "compilations" are registrable as "literary works;" maps and architectural plans are registrable as "pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works."

From the Library of Congress.

The key point here is that to claim copyright the expression must be "fixed." In most cases, Web sites and their contents, served to the world, satisfy this condition of "fixedness." At the moment, facts, ideas or other scientific findings in themselves are not copyrightable, but their particular representations in fixed formats (e.g., tables, graphs) are, with little doubt, under the protection of copyright laws.