Monday was World Intellectual Property Day 2011.
In honor of that here is a brief description of copyright, courtesy of the US Copyright Office, a division of the Library of Congress.
Copyright … protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed.
The Copyright Office FAQ answers two key questions: “Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.” [So essentially, you need to write it down or type it up.]
Do you have to register a copyright to be protected? The Copyright Office says “No. In general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work.” [So, the answer is no, but ...]
What’s the difference between copyright and trademark? Trademark is the domain of the US Patent Office which describes it this way:
A trademark is a word, name, symbol, or device that is used in trade with goods to indicate the source of the goods and to distinguish them from the goods of others. A servicemark is the same as a trademark except that it identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than a product. The terms “trademark and “mark are commonly used to refer to both trademarks and servicemarks.
Trademark rights prevent others from using similar marks that confuse consumers, but it doesn’t prevent others from competing under a different trademark.