This article is from the Copyright Law FAQ, by Terry Carroll with numerous contributions by others.
The U.S. Copyright Office General Information Package 118 provides
general information on copyright law. Copyright Office Circular 2,
"Publications on Copyright," provides a complete list of publications
relating to copyright which are available from the Copyright Office.
These materials and many others may be ordered (generally free of charge)
by calling the Copyright Office Hotline at 202-707-9100 and leaving a
voice mail message. Call the Hotline only if you already know the number
of the publication you want. If you don't know the publication number,
the Copyright Office maintains a prerecorded information line at 202-707-
3000. This line provides an automatic voice mail attendant that provides
information according to responses presented from a touch-tone keypad.
Much of the information in section 2.6 was obtained from this information
The book "Intellectual Property in a Nutshell," by Arthur R. Miller of
Harvard Law School and Michael H. Davis of Cleveland-Marshall College of
Law (West Publishing, 1990, ISBN 0-314-75738-4), provides a fine
introduction not only to copyright law, but also to patent and trademark
law. It's typically available from college or law school bookstores for
The authoritative secondary source for information on copyright is the
five-volume loose-leaf opus, "Nimmer on Copyright." Originally written
and maintained by the late Professor Melville Nimmer and now maintained
by his son, David Nimmer, this is the most respected source of copyright
information, short of the texts of the statutes, regulations, and cases
themselves. Nimmer is frequently cited by courts, including the U.S.
Supreme Court, as an authority to justify their opinions. I've been
surprised to find short essays on even the most obscure copyright
questions (e.g., whether a food recipe is subject to copyright). I
heartily recommend it as an initial source for research. It is, however,
a bit dense for casual reading.
Several readers have recommended L. Ray Patterson & Stanley W. Lindberg,
"The Nature Of Copyright" (1991), ISBNs 0-8203-1362-9 (paperback) and 0-
8203-1347-5 (hardback). Patterson and Stanley reportedly argue for a
broad interpretation of a user's rights in a work, and a more narrow
interpretation of the right of the copyright holder. Be aware that this
interpretation may or may not match the law of your jurisdiction.
In preparing this FAQ, I consulted the casebook that was used in my
Copyright class in Fall of 1991 at Santa Clara University School of Law:
Joyce, Patry, Leaffer and Jaszi, "Copyright Law, Second Edition" (1991),
ISBN 0-8205-0115-8. Like most casebooks, it contains edited versions of
most of the landmark decisions in the law, including most of the cases
that are cited in this FAQ. It's not for beginners, but it's well-
written, and often contains illustrations of the works being discussed in
the cases (a very useful feature, since copyright questions often turn on
questions of similarity or originality that can only be determined by
seeing the work). The book's best features are a good review of the
history of copyright, an excellent description of the international
treaties covering copyright, and a detailed bibliography at the end of
each chapter. An unfortunate feature is the index, which is not the best
organized, and often provides incorrect page numbers (perhaps because of
the editors' hurry to include the Feist case that had been decided only a
few months before the book was in stores).
Nolo Press publishes two books on copyright for the lay reader: "The
Copyright Handbook: How to Protect and Use Written Works," by Stephen
Fishman, ISBN 0-87337-130-5 ($24.95) and "How to Copyright Software," by
M.J. Salone, ISBN 0-87337-102-X ($39.95). My knowledge of these books is
limited to the entries in the catalog, but Nolo Press generally enjoys an
excellent reputation for publishing accurate and understandable books on
law. Nolo's telephone number is (510) 549-1976.