We all know that books are generally copyrighted, along with music. However, there are other types of intellectual property that can be copyrighted or otherwise protected. You might hold a copyright already and not even know it.
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What Does Copyright Protect?
If you've created certain types of creative works, you may hold the copyright to them. The process is automatic, although registering a copyright with the Copyright Office makes it easier to protect your intellectual property. You have to be the original author (not the author of a spoof or parody) to claim a copyright.
Copyrights can protect all sorts of writing, from novels to poetry to brochures to employee manuals. As long as you've written it down, you can protect it under copyright.
Works of art are also protected. Whether you've drawn an illustration or sculpted a three-dimensional piece, you've got a copyrighted work. Commercial drawings and models are also protected. Architectural drawings are also copyrighted, as are the buildings created from those drawings.
Music of all types is copyrighted work, from the sheet music used by the performers during live performances at venues to the music on your MP3 player. That, by the way, includes sound effects like creepy Halloween noises that a haunted house might play. Movies of all types are also protected.
Computer software and its underlying code are copyrighted, as well. That includes websites and all sorts of different programs that you might run on your computer, your tablet or even your phone.
Some Surprising Copyrights
There are a lot of different things that you may hold copyright to that you might not expect, based on the simple descriptions above, even though those are the broadest categories that the Copyright Office looks at.
If your daughter's dance teacher comes up with choreography for her class to perform, the teacher holds the copyright to that dance.
If you shoot a video of your family at Christmas, you hold the copyright to that video.
If you make a graph laying out some data for your boss, you may hold a copyright to that graph.
If someone draws a map of how to get to his or her house, that map is copyrighted.
You might even see layers of copyrights in certain situations: If you tape your daughter's piano recital, you hold the copyright to the video, but the person who wrote the music she's playing holds the copyright to the music in the video. If you wanted to put that video up on the Internet, sell it or do anything else with it, you need permission from the person who holds the copyright to the music in question.
There are a lot of opportunities for copyright out there. In fact, every time you create something new you may have a piece of intellectual property that could be copyrighted. That doesn't mean that every time you create something that is copyrightable, you should worry about it. Copyright law is meant to protect anything that someone might make money off of, particularly at the creator's expense. If you publish a novel or land a gig for your band, money is involved, so you should start thinking about copyright. But if there's no money on the table, don't worry about it.
The Bottom Line
There are many types of intellectual property beyond those discussed above, some of which can be protected in ways other than copyright. While copyright law does not protect the brand of a company (including its logo, catchphrases and even sometimes the colors used in its marketing materials), trademark law does.
You can also protect inventions and processes under patent law. If you come up with a better mousetrap or even a new way to motivate cats to chase down mice, you can protect either one by writing up your idea and submitting it for a patent.
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