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A writing is

handwriting, typewriting, printing, photostating, photographing, photocopying, and other of means of recording, and includes letters, words, pictures, sounds, or symbols, or combinations thereof, and papers, maps, magnetic or punched cards, discs, drums, or other means of recording or retaining meaningful content.[1]

Uniform Commercial Code[]

A writing "includes printing, typewriting or any other intentional reduction to tangible form."[2]

U.S. Code[]

A writing

includes printing and typewriting and reproductions of visual symbols by photographing, multigraphing, mimeographing, manifolding, or otherwise.[3]

U.S. copyright law[]

The U.S. Constitution grants Congress the power

to promote the Progress of Science and the useful Arts by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."[4]

The work of an author must be a writing in order to be eligible for copyright protection.

Section 4 of the 1909 Copyright Act stated that “all the writings of an author” were subject to copyright. But sound recordings were not treated as “writings” in the early part of this century, largely based on the decision in White-Smith Music Publishing Co. v. Apollo Co.[5]

The Court's narrow reading of what constituted a “writing” underlay the approach legislators took toward bills proposed between 1909 and 1971 that might have defined recorded aural works as the writings of authors.[6] Some courts noted that the contributions of performers rose to the level of a writing, but felt an amendment to the 1909 Copyright Act was necessary.[7] In the 1970s there were a number of cases dealing with unauthorized duplication of pre-1972 sound recordings; these cases either assumed that the performers' contributions were protectable property, or simply stated the principle with little discussion.[8]

In 1971 Congress recognized sound recordings as “writings” deserving copyright protection. Copyright protection was granted, but owners of copyright in sound recordings were not granted the full array of exclusive rights afforded other authors; the controversial public performance right was withheld.[9]

The 1976 Copyright Act interprets the constitutional term "writings" broadly, defining it as:

original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.[10]


  1. Michigan Dept. of Tech., Management & Budget, 8000 Glossary (Jan. 6, 1997) (full-text).
  2. U.C.C. §1-201(46).
  3. 1 U.S.C. §1.
  4. U.S. Const. art 1, §8, cl. 8.
  5. 209 U.S. 1 (1908) (full-text). The U.S. Supreme Court held that since the perforations on a piano roll were not visually intelligible, the recording was not a copy of the underlying music, and the author of the composition had no control over the use of such a recording.
  6. See Barbara Ringer, “The Unauthorized Duplication of Sound Recordings,” Study No. 26 in Copyright Law Revision, Studies Prepared for the committee on Patents, Trademarks and Copyrights of the Comm. on the Judiciary, U S. Senate, 86th Cong., 2d Sess. (Comm. Print 1961) (full-text).
  7. See, e.g., Waring v WDAS Broadcast. Station, Inc. 327 Pa. 433, 194 A. 631 (1937); RCA Mfg. Co. v. Whiteman, 114 F.2d 86 (2d Cir.) (full-text), cert. denied, 311 U.S. 712 (1940); Capitol Records, Inc. v. Mercury Records Corp., 221 F.2d 657 (2d Cir. 1955) (full-text).
  8. See, e.g., United Artists Records, Inc. v. Eastern Tape Corp. 19 N.C. App. 207, 198 SE 2d 452 (1973) (full-text); Mercury Records Productions, Inc. v. Economic Consultants, Inc., 64 Wis.2d 163, 218 N.W.2d 705 (1974) (full-text).
  9. Sound Recordings Act, Pub. L. No. 140, 85 Stat. 39 (1971).
  10. 17 U.S.C. §102(a).