What is copyright law and how is it different from patent and trademark law?

Copyright law is part of intellectual law that includes patent, trademark, and trade secret law.

  • Patent law protects inventions
  • Trademark law protects logos and slogans
  • Copyright law protects works of “creative expression”

The five copyright protections are:

  1. copy or reproduce
  2. publicly perform
  3. publicly display
  4. create a derivative work
  5. publicly disseminate

Copyright law protects music, movies, performances, novels, poems, art, designs, sculptures, photos, emails, academic journal articles, course books, newspaper articles, documentaries, and anything of a creative expression fixed in a medium.

Copyright law protects an author’s creative work by making it illegal for someone else to copy or use the work without permission. An author has certain rights to his or her own work (right to copy, publicly display, publicly perform, make derivative works, and publicly disseminate) for a period of time.  During this time, no one else may exercise those rights without permission (copyright infringement).

In addition, there are copyrights within copyrights. For example, Jim makes a movie for a class. The performance and the script are protected by copyright law. 

See also:

Administrative policy — Copyright Law (PDF, 18 KB)

Madison Area Technical College Copyright Procedure Document (PDF, 363k)