Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution gives to the United States Congress the power to “promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”

Title 17 United States Code provides to authors of “original works of authorship” copyright protection which vests in the author at the moment the creation has been “fixed in a tangible medium.” This protection is available for both published and unpublished works and gives the owner the exclusive right (with limitations) to display or perform the copyrighted work publicly, to reproduce or copy the copyrighted work, to distribute copies of the copyrighted work to the pubic and to prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work (see §106 of the Copyright Act of 1976).

Upon creation, the author/artist should label the original work with the authors name and a ©, Copyright or Copr. mark followed by the year of first publication. This label serves the purpose of providing notice to the public of the author of the work, that the work is protected by copyright and the year the work was first published. As such, in some circumstances this label may be used to prevent a potential infringer from claiming “innocent infringement” by claiming that they did not realize that the work was protected.

While copyright protection vests in the author at the moment the creation has been “fixed in a tangible medium,” federal registration of the copyright occurs only when the work to be copyrighted is registered with the United States Copyright Office (USCO). Federal copyright registration is recommended and may provide copyright owners with certain advantages. For example, because proof of a valid copyright must be shown in order to sue for damages based on copyright infringement, presenting a copyright certificate from the USCO may be used to show proof of ownership. In some cases, this may entitle the infringed party to statutory damages as well as attorney fees and litigation costs.