Establishing ownership of an intangible item, such as a poem or painting, can be difficult. Unlike proving ownership of a car, which simply requires the owner to have a bill of sale or title, the copyright provides protection for creative work. Simply put, the copyright protects intangible goods which are created, thus becoming tangible. An official copyright can be registered to formally certify the ownership of an item, but is not necessary in the United States, where a concept automatically becomes copyright protected the moment it takes tangible form.

Copyright laws do not ban people from using similar ideas, words or thoughts. They deal exclusively with the exact working and structure of the item that is copyright protected. The holder of a copyright is the only person who can make a deal to turn their novel into a movie, for example. If a copyright owner wishes to transfer their rights to another, the new owner would have permission to use the item as they saw fit.

The laws that govern copyrights have been changing since their inception in the early 1800’s, becoming more favorable for the author. Copyright laws are designed to protect the financial benefits that may be derived from the product. In other words, the copyright prohibits the fair use of an item by the public. The typical length of copyright protection is the lifetime of the author plus 70 years. This allows the estate to make a claim based on any potential licensing fees. Interestingly, the first images of Mickey Mouse should have passed into public domain for usage but changes to the copyright laws have allowed the happy cartoon to stay where they are – safe from the public.

Additionally, the courts have begun to crack down on infringement of copyright laws. Classifying copyrights as intellectual property gives the owner the security of knowing that the courts will back them up.