The intellectual property rights of authors, composers, and other creators of original artistic content are typically protected under a legal instrument called a copyright. In the US, these rights are protected under the federal law called the U.S. Copyright Act (17 U.S.C. §§ 101 – 810). These creative “works of authorship” have to be in a fixed, tangible form and may be in force for as long as 120 years, depending on whether the work was published or not.
Copyright is primarily set to protect expression. For example, nobody can own the copyright for the 8 notes which are the basis of all music in the world, but the way these notes are arranged in sequence to produce a unique composition can be copyrighted by the composer. A copyright owner can distribute, display, perform, derive variations, and license the work solely at his or her discretion except where the activity falls under the fair use doctrine, such as in news reporting, teaching, criticism, or research. When accused of infringement in Texas, for example, Dallas intellectual property lawyers will be tasked to prove or disprove fair use to the court with the test described under § 107.
For a work to be protected, it is not necessary to register the copyright with the Copyright Office. However, in compliance with the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works which the US joined in 1989 it is not possible to bring legal action against any third party for copyright infringement until such time as it has been formally registered with the US Patent Office for non-US works published prior to March 1, 1989 and for all works originating in the US. Once it is registered, the copyright owner must provide copies of the work within 3 months of publication or be liable for fines.