Copyright is an author's legal ownership of a work he created. Initially the term referred to printed works but now it extends to compositions distributed by internet, by CD, by broadcast, or by a wide variety of other methods. The work may be any creative material including music, art, photographs, movies, etc.
A copyright is intellectual property that is specifically mentioned in the US Constitution. The term of a copyright has varied over the years with changes in the law. Usually it is the life of the author plus 50 or 70 years. There is an international copyright convention, known as the Berne Convention, with which US law attempts to conform. Under the Berne Convention, the US no longer requires copyright registration. The right is presumed to exist from the date of publication. Once a copyright expires, the work passes into the public domaine, meaning anyone is free to use it without payment of fees. However, increasingly the internet, movies and cable TV give value to even classical works. Moreover, the copyright to some iconic characters like Mickey Mouse or Winnie the Pooh are extremely valuable. A copyright is indeed an asset.
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