Under US law, pretty much anything you write down is copyrighted. Scrawl an original note on a napkin and it’s protected until 70 years after your death.
Note: None of this post should be taken as criticism of Zuckerman. I’m just using his sentence as a foil. He is a great blogger, the above is a great post of his, which furthermore talks about the great work of some of my colleagues…
In what sense is the hypothetical scrawl above “protected” by copyright? A scrawl might be protected by a glass case or digitization, or even (somewhat remotely) by secure property rights in napkins, glass cases, and computers.
No, copyright restricts the ability of others to use representations of the scrawl legally, without obtaining permission from the scrawler or a party the scrawler has transferred this right to censor to.
Which brings us to another inaccurate phrasing, which has many variations, all along the lines of “copyright is the right to … a copyrighted work” where the ellipsis are filled by words like “publish”, “distribute”, or “perform”. Not true! Copyright is not required to have the right to publish a work, or public domain works would be illegal to publish. Instead, copyright is the right to legally restrict others from publishing, distributing, performing works.