Copyright law covers all "original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression," whether published or unpublished.
A work is considered original if it "embodies some minimum amount of creativity." For example, a how-to manual or a particular arrangement of data may be considered original works.
Fixed means that the work exists in a form that has "more than transitory duration." A cake decorated with a Happy Birthday message is unlikely to be fixed, but a Web site almost certainly is.
Tangible medium of expression refers to what can be seen, heard, or felt, either directly or with the assistance of a machine or device now known or later developed.
Such works include, for example:
- Literary works (this designation covers works composed of words and/or numbers, such as books, articles, Web sites, and software programs)
- Musical works, including any accompanying words
- Dramatic works, including any accompanying music
- Pantomimes and choreographic works
- Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
- Motion pictures and other audio-visual works
- Sound recordings
- Architectural works
Copyright protection does not extend to:
- Facts, ideas, procedures, processes, systems, methods of operation, concepts, principles, or discoveries. Note however that a particular expression or arrangement of facts, ideas, etc., may be protected.
- Works of the U.S. federal government or any U.S. federal government employee acting within the scope of his/her employment
- Works in the public domain
- Works for which copyright has expired (thus in the public domain)
Use the information in chapter 6 of this guide, "When Works Pass into the Public Domain," to determine the copyright status of the work you wish to use.
 Kenneth D. Crews, Copyright Essentials for Librarians and Educators (Chicago: American Library Association, 2000), 9.