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503.1 (D) Work of Authorship Distinguished from the Medium of Expression

503.1 (D) Work of Authorship Distinguished from the Medium of Expression


A copyright registration covers the copyrightable authorship that the author contributed to the work, but it does not cover the medium in which the work has been fixed. See H.R. REP. NO. 94-1476, at 53 (1976), reprinted in 1976 U.S.C.C.A.N. 5659, 5666;

S. REP. NO. 94-473, at 52 (1975) (recognizing that there is “a fundamental distinction between the ‘original work’ which is the product of ‘authorship’ and the multitude of material objects in which it can be embodied.”). Thus, when completing an application, the applicant should describe the copyrightable authorship that the author contributed to the work, rather than the medium that the author used to create that work. The U.S. Copyright Office cannot register a claim based solely on the method that the author used to create his or her expression or the medium in which the expression has been fixed.


The following chart provides representative examples of various types of works and the authorship they typically contain, as distinguished from the medium in which the authorship may be fixed. In these examples, the Office may register a claim to copyright in “2-D artwork,” “music and lyrics,” “sound recording,” or other forms of original authorship, but not in the “canvas,” “compact disc,” “digital music file,” or other medium that the author used to create the work.


Type of Work

Medium of Expression

Original Authorship

Short story

Paper, digital file, etc.

Text that qualifies as a literary work

Acrylic painting

Canvas

2-D Artwork

Song containing music and lyrics

Sheet music, compact disc, digital music file, etc.

Music and lyrics

Recording of a song

Compact disc, digital music file, etc.

Sound recording

Home video

DVD, digital video file, etc.

Motion picture

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