Intellectual Property (IP) is the catch-all term for non-physical but identifiable property. Think of the text of a book: it can be presented in various languages or different physical forms, but the underlying content remains the same. This underlying content is intellectual property. In the USA, there are 3 main designations for IP protection that individuals can utilize, these are Copyright, Trademark, and Patent.
Trademark, Patent, or Copyright?
For an all-inclusive example, let’s imagine a bottle of Coca-Cola. The Coca-Cola Corp owns the trademark to the name Coca-Cola, as well as the trademark on the bottle shape, and the graphic representation of their name. These are all things that help distinguish them from other cola brands and define their individual product. Coca-Cola also owns the patent on its formula. This means that no other corporation is allowed to make their cola in quite the same way Coca-Cola makes theirs. Coca-Cola also owns the copyright on their ads and jingles and the creative copy on their bottles. Unless your use meets a Fair Use standard, you are not allowed to use their copy without receiving their permission!
The goal of US copyright law is to promote progress by securing time-limited exclusive rights for creators. (paraphrased from Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 of the US Constitution).
Currently, in the United States, copyright is automatically applied to content in a fixed form (physical or digital). If you write a book or draw a picture, those things are protected under copyright, and you are entitled to six exclusive rights.
You are not required to register your copyright with the Copyright Office, however, if you believe that there may be a copyright dispute in the future, you may register with the Copyright Office.
You are not required to include a copyright statement or copyright symbol ©. The purpose of either is to identify the work's copyright holder, which helps those who may like to use the work obtain permission from the owner.
Exceptions or limitations on a copyright owner's exclusive rights include Fair Use and Reproduction by Libraries and Archives (for an exhaustive list, see US Code, Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 107-112.
Content provided by Cornell University under the CC BY 4.0 Creative Commons License with minor edits for brevity.
Information contained in this guide is educational in nature and is not intended as legal advice.