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The owner of a copyright has the right to exclude any other person from reproducing, preparing derivative works, distributing, performing, displaying, or using the work covered by copyright for a specific period of time. Copyrighted work can be a literary work, musical work, dramatic work, pantomime, choreographic work, pictorial work, graphic work, sculptural work, motion picture, audiovisual work, sound recording, architectural work, mask works fixed in semiconductor chip products, or a computer program. Only a concrete "medium of expression" can be copyrighted, facts, ideas, procedures, processes, systems, methods of operation, concepts, principles or discoveries cannot themselves be copyrighted. Items to be copyrighted must be original and not the result of copying another copyrighted property.
The U.S. Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. §§ 101 - 810, is Federal legislation enacted by Congress under its Constitutional grant of authority to protect the writings of authors. See U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 8. Evolving technology has led to an ever expanding understanding of the word "writings". The Copyright Act now covers architectural design, software, the graphic arts, motion pictures, and sound recordings. Because federal legislation invalidates inconsistent state law, the copyright field is almost exclusively a Federal one.
A copyright gives the owner the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, perform, display, or license his work. The owner also receives the exclusive right to produce or license derivatives of his or her work. Limited exceptions to this exclusivity exist for types of "fair use", such as book reviews. Under current law, works are covered whether or not a copyright notice is attached and whether or not the work is registered.
The federal agency charged with administering the act is the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress.