Copyright Vocabulary

Copyright Vocabulary

Our copyright law or statute is Title 17 of the United States Code (U.S.C.).  It is a large and complex law and has its own defined vocabulary and terms of art, generally located in §101, but sometimes sprinkled throughout the sections.  Collected here are the terms most commonly found in the sections most used by higher education. Some terms or phrases may not have their "ordinary" meaning so it is essential to know how it is defined in the Act.


1. Audiovisual Works - Works that consist of a series of related images which are intrinsically intended to be shown by the use of machines or devices such as projectors, viewers, or by electronic equipment, together with accompanying sounds, if any, regardless of the nature of the material objects, such as films or tapes, in which the works are embodied

2.  Copyright - a form of protection to the authors of “original works of authorship,” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works.

3.  Derivative Works:  a work based upon one or more preexisting works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted. A work consisting of editorial revisions, annotations, elaborations, or other modifications which, as a whole, represent an original work of authorship, is a "derivative work".

4.  Facts or Ideas - In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery. 

5.  Fixed in a Tangible Medium of Expression - A work is fixed in a tangible medium of expression when its embodiment . . . by or under authority of the author, is sufficiently permanent . . . to permit it to be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated for a period of more than transitory duration.

6.  Lawfully Made - Lawfully made works include not only materials made with the permission or under the authority of the copyright holder, but also those made under the authority of the copyright act, such as "fair use" copies.

7.  Motion Pictures - Audiovisual works consisting of a series of related images which, when shown in succession, impart an impression of motion, together with accompanying sounds, if any.

8.  Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works - Include two-dimensional and three-dimensional works of fine, graphic, and applied art, photographs, prints and art reproductions, maps, globes, charts, diagrams, models, and technical drawings, including architectural plans.

9. Publication - is the distribution of copies or phonorecords of a work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending. The offering to distribute copies or phonorecords to a group of persons for purposes of further distribution, public performance, or public display, constitutes publication. A public performance or display of a work does not of itself constitute publication.

10.  Transformative use:  A use of a copyrighted work that adds something new, with a further purpose or different character, altering the first with new expression, meaning, or message.

11.  Transmit: To transmit a performance or dislay is to communicate it by any device or process whereby images or sounds are received beyond the place from which they are sent.

12.  Work for Hire:

Under the copyright act, there are two categories of "work for hire".The first category is an employee work for hire. In this category, if a work is prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment, it is a work for hire. The employer is deemed to be the "author", and, as such, is the immediate and initial copyright owner.

In the second category, the creator is often referred to as an independent contractor. In this situation, the creator is not an actual employee but rather is specifically hired or commissioned to create a work for the employer and the employer desires to hold the copyright to the work. In order for the work to be a work for hire, the work must fall within one of the enumerated categories and the parties must sign a written agreement in advance stating that the work is going to be a work for hire within the meaning of the copyright act.

Enumerated categories:

A work specially ordered or commissioned for use 
• as a contribution to a collective work
• as part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work
• as a translation
• as a supplementary work
• as a compilation
• as an instructional text
• as a test
• as answer material for a text
• as an atlas
A "supplementary work" is a work prepared for publication as a secondary adjunct to a work by another author for the purpose of introducing, concluding, illustrating, explaining, revising, commenting upon, or assisting in the use of the other work, such as forewords, afterwords, pictorial illustrations, maps, charts, tables, editorial notes, musical arrangements, answer material for tests, bibliographies, appendixes and indexes.

An "instructional text" is a literary, pictorial, or graphic work prepared for publication and with the purpose of use in systematic instructional activities.

13.  Sound Recordings - Works that result from the fixation of a series of musical, spoken, or other sounds, but not including the sounds accompanying a motion picture or other audiovisual work, regardless of the nature of the material objects, such as disks, tapes, or other phonorecords, in which they are embodied.