Section 102(a) of the 1976 Copyright Act provides that copyright protects original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. The fixation need not be directly perceptible so long as it may be communicated with the aid of a machine or device. Copyrightable works include the following categories:
- literary works
- musical works, including any accompanying words
- dramatic works, including any accompanying music
- pantomimes and choreographic works
- pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
- motion pictures and other audiovisual works
- sound recordings, and
- architectural works.
This list "sets out the general area of copyrightable subject matter, but with sufficient flexibility to free the courts from rigid or outmoded concepts of the scope of particular categories."
"When Congress passed the first federal copyright law in 1790, it protected only books, maps, and charts. As time and technology marched on, however, Congress expanded protection to additional categories of works, from photographs to film, to sound recordings, and eventually, computer programs. The earliest attempts to protect computer programs in the 1960s were somewhat inelegant, with the Copyright Office registering the first computer programs as 'books' under the 'Rule of Doubt.'"
- H.R. Rep. 94-1476, at 53, reprinted in 1976 U.S.C.C.A.N. 5666.
- Act of May 31, 1790, ch. 15, §1, 1 Stat. 124, 124.
- 17 U.S.C. §§101, 102(a), 106; Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices, Third Edition.
- The first Office registration was for two computer programs — one on magnetic tape and the other printed on paper — as “books.” See Computer Program Copyrighted for First Time, N.Y. Times, at 43, 51 (May 8, 1964) at 43, 51; see also U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 31D (1965).
- "Oveview" section: Software-Enabled Consumer Products, at 1.