Copyright basics

Every year, millions of Americans create original works—books, music, research and other forms of creative expression. All of these creations are intellectual property (IP), and all of them are protected by copyright. For writers, editors, and publishers, understanding copyright issues is essential, especially now that the production of counterfeit and pirated goods, including written works, has become so prevalent. Indeed, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the value of imported fake goods worldwide based on 2016 customs seizure data was $509 billion, up from $461 billion in 2013 (2.5% of world trade).

While all U.S. businesses are vulnerable to IP theft, small businesses are often at a particular disadvantage. This is especially true for writers and small publications: With more than 20,500 magazines and over 7,600 daily and weekly newspapers in the nation, there is a wealth of material for IP thieves to steal. And now that the Internet has made copying and distributing protected material easier than ever before, it is critical that you understand the basics of protecting your original work.

That's why the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, along with other government agencies, is reaching out to small businesses to help them protect their intellectual property. Our campaign includes a web site,, specifically designed to help individuals and small businesses learn how to protect themselves in all types of intellectual property.

In order to protect yourself from IP theft, it's important to know the basics about your rights. For writers, editors, and publishers, this means taking a look at the basics of copyright law: what it is, what it protects, and how to secure it.


Protecting America's ideas

America's intellectual energy has always kept us on the cutting edge of innovation and creativity. From original research to popular music, children's books to movie scripts, America's imaginative spirit is stronger today than it has ever been. Protecting the creative expression that comes from that spirit should be every writer's, publisher's, and editor's priority. At the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, it is our job to make sure that American innovation and creativity continue to flourish. This is the goal of our Small Business Education Campaign. To learn more about copyrights, visit and check out the "All About Copyrights" section.