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Copyright is a form of protection provided by U.S. law to the authors of "original works of authorship" fixed in any tangible medium of expression.  The manner and medium of fixation are virtually unlimited.  Creative expression may be captured in words, numbers, notes, sounds, pictures, or any other graphic or symbolic media. The subject matter of copyright is extremely broad, including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, audiovisual, and architectural works.  Copyright protection is available to both published and unpublished works.

Under the 1976 Copyright Act, the copyright owner has the exclusive right to reproduce, adapt, distribute, publicly perform, and publicly display the work.  In the case of sound recordings, the copyright has the right to perform the work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.  These exclusive rights are freely transferable, and may be licensed, sold, donated to charity, or bequeathed to your heirs.  It is illegal for anyone to violate any of the exclusive rights of the copyright owner.  If the copyright owner prevails in an infringement claim, the available remedies include preliminary and permanent injunctions (court orders to stop current or prevent future infringements), impounding, and destroying the infringing articles.

The exclusive rights of the copyright owner, however, are limited in a number of important ways.  Under the "fair use" doctrine, which has long been part of U.S. copyright law and was expressly incorporated in the 1976 Copyright Act, a judge may excuse unauthorized uses that may otherwise be infringing.  Section 107 of the Copyright Act lists criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research as examples of uses that may be eligible for the fair use defense.  In other instances, the limitation takes the form of a "compulsory license" under which certain limited uses of copyrighted works are permitted upon payment of specified royalties and compliance with statutory conditions. The Copyright Act also contains a number of statutory limitations covering specific uses for educational, religious, and charitable purposes