The U.S. Constitution grants Congress the power to enact laws relating to copyrights. Specifically, Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution states that Congress shall have power... "to promote the progress of science and useful Arts, by securing for limited times to authors .... the exclusive right to their respective writings ..." The federal copyright laws are codified at Title 17 of the United States Code.

Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States to the authors of "original works of authorship," including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works. This protection is available to both published and unpublished works. The copyright laws generally gives the owner of a copyright the exclusive right to do and to authorize others to do the following:

• reproduce the work in copies or phonorecords
• prepare derivative works based upon the work
• distribute copies or phonorecords of the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending
• perform the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works
• display the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work
• perform the work publicly (in the case of sound recordings) by means of a digital audio transmission

It is illegal for anyone to violate any of the rights provided by the copyright law to the owner of copyright. These rights, however, are not unlimited in scope. There are limitations on these rights. In some cases, these limitations are specified exemptions from copyright liability. One major limitation is the doctrine of "fair use" which allows a person to use a copyright for non-commercial purposes.

Copyright protection subsists from the time the work is created in fixed form. The copyright in the work of authorship immediately becomes the property of the author who created the work. Only the author or those deriving their rights through the author can rightfully claim copyright.

In the case of works made for hire, the employer and not the employee is considered to be the author. The copyright laws define a "work made for hire" as:

(1) a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment; or
(2) a work specially ordered or commissioned provided the parties expressly agree in a written instrument signed by them that the work shall be considered a work made for hire.

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.

The above categories are viewed broadly. For example, computer programs and most "compilations" may be registered as "literary works." Maps and architectural plans may be registered as "pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works."