Circular 452 45.1109
for Motion Pictures,
Motion pictures are audiovisual works consisting of a series of related images
that, when shown in succession, impart an impression of motion, together with
any accompanying sounds. Motion pictures are typically embodied in film,
videotape, or videodisk.
How Copyright Is Secured
Copyright in a motion picture is automatically secured when the work is cre
ated and “fixed” in a copy. The Copyright Office registers claims to copyright
and issues certificates of registration but does not “grant” or “issue” copyrights.
Only the expression (camera work, dialogue, sounds, and so on) fixed in a
motion picture is protectible under copyright. Copyright does not cover the idea
or concept behind the work or any characters portrayed in the work.
Works that do not constitute a fixation of a motion picture include:
• a live telecast that is not fixed in a copy
• a screenplay or treatment of a future motion picture
Publication of a motion picture takes place when one or more copies are distrib
uted to the public by sale, rental, lease, or lending or when an offering is made
to distribute copies to a group of people (wholesalers, retailers, broadcasters,
motion picture distributors, and the like) for purposes of further distribution or
public performance. Offering to distribute a copy of a motion picture for exhi
bition during a film festival may be considered publication of that work.
For an offering to constitute publication, copies must be made and be ready for
distribution. The performance itself of a motion picture (for example, showing it
in a theater, on television, or in a school room) does not constitute publication.
Publication of a motion picture publishes all the components embodied in it
including the music, the script, and the sounds. Thus, if a motion picture made
from a screenplay is published, the screenplay is published to the extent it is