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U.S. copyright law[]

A material object under the Copyright Act is the form taken by a fixed work such as a film, tape, or disk for a literary work or a building or drawing for an architectural work.


After the decision in Advanced Computer Services v. MAI,[1] absolute permanence is not required and even the electrical impulses of a program in RAM are material objects, even though they are imperceptible to the ordinary observer, because they can be perceived by persons with the aid of a computer.

Transfer of ownership of any material object, including a copy or phonorecord in which the work is first fixed does not itself convey any rights in the copyrighted work embodied in the object; nor, in the absence of an agreement, does transfer of ownership of a copyright or of any exclusive rights under a copyright convey property rights in any material object.[2]

A computer hard drive is a material object.[3]

A computer program is not a material object but a literary work.[4]


  1. Advanced Computer Servs. of Mich., Inc. v. MAI Sys. Corp., 845 F. Supp. 356 (E.D. Va. 1994) (full-text).
  2. 17 U.S.C. §202.
  3. Recording Industry Ass'n of America v. Diamond Multimedia Sys, Inc., 180 F.3d 1072, 1078, 51 U.S.P.Q.2d (BNA) 1115 (9th Cir. 1999) (full-text).
  4. Apple Computer, Inc. v. Franklin Computer, Corp., 714 F.2d 1240, 1249 (3rd Cir. 1983) (full-text).