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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:

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."[1]


"When Congress passed the first federal copyright law in 1790, it protected only books, maps, and charts.[2] 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.[3] 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.'"[4]


  1. H.R. Rep. 94-1476, at 53, reprinted in 1976 U.S.C.C.A.N. 5666.
  2. Act of May 31, 1790, ch. 15, §1, 1 Stat. 124, 124.
  3. 17 U.S.C. §§101, 102(a), 106; Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices, Third Edition.
  4. 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).