Rights & Limitations

Summary | Rights | What | Online | Limitations | Infringement


Summary text here.


What rights do I get?

You get to control who can copy, adapt, license and publicly display your photos.

“Subject to sections 107 through 122, the owner of copyright under this title has the exclusive rights to do and to authorize any of the following:

  • (1) to reproduce the copyrighted work in copies ..;
  • (2) to prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work;
  • (3) to distribute copies .. of the copyrighted work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending; ..
  • (5) .. to display the copyrighted work publicly

17 USC §106

As a photographer, you get to be the only person to:

  1. make and sell copies of your photos;
  2. create other art using your photos, such as paintings or Photoshop variations;
  3. publish your photos on the Internet and in books;
  4. license usage of your photos to other people in exchange for money.

In a sense, copyright doesn’t give you anything, it just take abilities away from other people, saying what they can’t do. Thus it’s an “exclusionary right” or a “negative right.”

Copyright as personal and intellectual property right

Copyright is a form of intangible personal property, protected by constitutional, federal (U.S. Code Title 17) and state law. It is a type of intellectual property (“IP”), along with patent, trade secrets and trademark (all federal) and publicity rights. An intellectual property right is an entitlement, an exclusive right, a prerogative, a form of monopoly, that denies others the right to do something.

“Copyright is a personal property right, and it is subject to the various state laws and regulations that govern the ownership, inheritance, or transfer of personal property as well as terms of contracts or conduct of business.”
U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 1

“Most scholars of copyright agree that [copyright] can be called a kind of property, because it involves the exclusion of others from something.”
Wikipedia, Copyright

“[Copyright] is an intellectual property form (like the patent, the trademark, and the trade secret) applicable to any expressible form of an idea or information that is substantive and discrete.”
Wikipedia, Copyright

What can get copyright?

Can I copyright..
architecture, diary, website


book title, domain name, idea, logo, name, recipe, slogan


Can I copyright my website?

“The original authorship appearing on a website may be protected by copyright. This includes writings, artwork, photographs, and other forms of authorship protected by copyright.”
U.S. Copyright Office, FAQ

Can I copyright my domain name?

“Copyright law does not protect domain names. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a nonprofit organization that has assumed the responsibility for domain name system management, administers the assignation of domain names through accredited registers.”
U.S. Copyright Office, FAQ

Can I copyright a recipe?

“A mere listing of ingredients is not protected under copyright law. However, where a recipe or formula is accompanied by substantial literary expression in the form of an explanation or directions, or when there is a collection of recipes as in a cookbook, there may be a basis for copyright protection.”
U.S. Copyright Office, FAQ

Can I copyright a name, book title, slogan or logo?

“Copyright does not protect names, titles, slogans, or short phrases. In some cases, these things may be protected as trademarks. Contact the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office for further information. However, copyright protection may be available for logo artwork that contains sufficient authorship. In some circumstances, an artistic logo may also be protected as a trademark.”
U.S. Copyright Office, FAQ

How do I protect my idea?

“Copyright does not protect ideas, concepts, systems, or methods of doing something. You may express your ideas in writing or drawings and claim copyright in your description, but be aware that copyright will not protect the idea itself as revealed in your written or artistic work.”
U.S. Copyright Office, FAQ

Can I register a diary I found in my grandmother’s attic?

“You can register copyright in the diary only if you own the rights to the work, for example, by will or by inheritance. Copyright is the right of the author of the work or the author’s heirs or assignees, not of the one who only owns or possesses the physical work itself.”
U.S. Copyright Office, FAQ

Does copyright protect architecture?

“Yes. Architectural works became subject to copyright protection on December 1, 1990.”
U.S. Copyright Office, FAQ

How do I protect my sighting of Elvis?

“Copyright law does not protect sightings. However, copyright law will protect your photo (or other depiction) of your sighting of Elvis. No one can lawfully use your photo of your sighting, although someone else may file his own photo of his sighting. Copyright law protects the original photograph, not the subject of the photograph.”
U.S. Copyright Office, FAQ

OK, what can not get copyright?

“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, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.”
17 USC §102(b)


“For works transmitted online, the copyrightable authorship may consist of text, artwork, music, audiovisual material (including any sounds), sound recordings, etc. Copyright does not protect ideas, procedures, systems, or methods of operation (17 USC sec. 102(b)).”
U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 66, Reviewed 05/2009

What if I update my website?

“Many works transmitted online, such as websites, are revised or updated frequently. Generally, copyrightable revisions to online works that are published on separate days must each be registered individually, with a separate application and filing fee ([except for databases, weekly serials, and daily newspapers and newsletters). Registration of a revised version covers only the new or revised material added. The version of the work that is deposited should be the same version described on the application; thus, the title and dates on the application should correspond with those on the deposit copy.”
U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 66, Reviewed 05/2009

Is a website link protected by copyright?

No, not in and of itself, as it is a fact and not creative.

“In no case does copyright protection .. extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.”
17 USC §102(b)

Can I backup my computer software?

“Yes, under certain conditions as provided by section 117 of the copyright act. Although the precise term used under section 117 is ‘archival’ copy, not ‘backup’ copy, these terms today are used interchangeably. This privilege extends only to computer programs and not to other types of works.”
U.S. Copyright Office, FAQ

“Under section 117, you or someone you authorize may make a copy of an original computer program if:

  • the new copy is being made for archival (i.e., backup) purposes only;
  • you are the legal owner of the copy; and
  • any copy made for archival purposes is either destroyed, or transferred with the original copy, once the original copy is sold, given away, or otherwise transferred.

U.S. Copyright Office, FAQ

“You are not permitted under section 117 to make a backup copy of other material on a computer’s hard drive, such as other copyrighted works that have been downloaded (e.g., music, films).”
U.S. Copyright Office, FAQ



Exceptions include:

  • Work made for hire
  • U.S Government work
  • Unoriginal work
  • Facts, ideas


Limitations include:

  • Duration
  • Resale
  • Fair use
  • Libraries and archives


What if someone copies my work?

“anyone who violates any of the exclusive rights of the copyright owner an infringer of the copyright or right of the author.”
U.S. Code Title 17, §501

“.. there are several limitations of the exclusive rights of the copyright owner. The copyright law provides exemptions from infringement liability by authorizing certain uses under particularized circumstances.”
U.S. Copyright Office

Moral Rights

“..the author of a work of visual art .. shall have the right .. to claim authorship of that work .. .. to prevent the use of his or her name as the author of the work of visual art in the event of a distortion, mutilation, or other modification of the work which would be prejudicial to his or her honor or reputation.”
17 USC §106(a)

“Copyright, a form of intellectual property law, protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed.”
U.S. Copyright Office, FAQ

Moral rights (copyright law) are a subset of the rights of creators of copyrighted works, including the right of attribution, the right to have a work published anonymously or pseudonymously, and the right to the integrity of the work.

[Copyright is] intended definitely to grant valuable, enforceable rights to authors, publishers, etc., without burden-some requirements; ‘to afford greater encouragement to the production of literary [or artistic] works of lasting benefit to the world.’.”
— Washingtonian Co. v. Pearson, 306 U. S. 30, 36.

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