A copyright is a type of intellectual property and legal ownership relating to creative works, ensuring only the owner has rights to the work’s production, sale, and distribution.

Copyrights empower creators like authors, musicians, playwrights, and artists to create and register their works publicly. Similar to patents and trademarks, copyrights protect intellectual property and assign ownership to an individual or organization. This legal ownership establishes a system of accountability and protects creators from copyright infringement.

Examples of copyrights

  • Literature
  • Music
  • Scripts
  • Photography
  • Videos
  • Audio
  • Architecture

Copyrights vs. Patents vs. Trademarks

There are three types of intellectual property: copyrights, patents, and trademarks. Protecting intellectual property is a millennium in the making, and modern nation-states continue to modernize IP laws today to protect creators and marketplaces. 

In the U.S, protection of original works boils down to three key methods.


Protects all creative works except inventions


Protects inventions and blueprints


Protect short phrases and logos for brands

See how the United States Patent and Trademark Office distinguishes the different types of intellectual property.

How are copyrights used?

When a creator produces a work deemed original, the result is the creator’s intellectual property. Thus, before the creator even registers the creative work, they are entitled to ownership rights. These rights can work to their advantage in a competitive market economy where scarcity of goods, works, and services make those items valuable. 

With copyright, creators can produce, sell, and publish their work for financial benefit while protecting their IPs from copyright infringement. Copyright owners can also earn revenue by sharing their work through Creative Commons licenses, allowing them to be licensed and used by clients.

Note: Not all uses of protected works qualify as actionable copyright infringement. Individuals and organizations can employ copyrighted works for appropriate reuse under the fair use defense.

How to register copyrights

  1. Finish creating the work
  2. Ensure the work wasn’t previously copyrighted
  3. Complete the copyright registration form available from the US Copyright Office
  4. Pay the registration fee and file copies of the work
  5. Copyright is processed, confirmed, and delivered by mail

Why Should I Copyright Works?

Copyrighting works is an essential process for creators to own their work wholly. From a public perspective, a copyright is an official government license and offers the owner credibility. Because copyright infringement is rampant, certified copyrights provide legal evidence to back up the creator’s claim of ownership. While a creator can wait to copyright their works, the longer the wait, the more likely bad actors take advantage of the work. Without copyright, the creator could face future expenses in an attempt to defend their ownership in court.

Are you interested in learning more about copyright law in the digital age? Please read our guide on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

How to type the copyright symbol on your keyboard

Operating SystemDescription
MacHold Option button + hit G
WindowsHold ALT button + type 0169
iOS or AndroidEmoji keyboard => numbers and symbols
Sam Ingalls
Sam Ingalls
Sam Ingalls is an award-winning writer and researcher covering enterprise technology, cybersecurity, data centers, and IT trends, for eSecurity Planet, TechRepublic, ServerWatch, Webopedia, and Channel Insider.
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