Fixation, in copyright law, refers to "fixing" a creative work in a "tangible medium of expression." It is a prerequisite to federal copyright protection in the United States. Unfixed works can be protected by state or common law copyright, but not by federal copyright.
Fixation includes the acts of:
This means that it's easy (and often unavoidable) to fix most types of copyrightable works. Fixation can be a problem for some works, though.
- Choreography is copyrightable. A choreographer should videotape their dance, or record the steps in notation, if they want copyright protection.
- Broadcasts are copyrightable, but projecting a broadcast onto a television screen does not count as fixation. The broadcast has to be recorded somehow. This can be accomplished by either (a) recording the program, then broadcasting the recording; or (b) recording the program as it is broadcast. This is how football games and the like are copyrighted.
- Musical performances are copyrighted. Even if the performer does not record their own performance, a separate provision in the Copyright Act (Section 1101) illegalizes trading in bootleg recordings.
Fixation is also an issue in infringement. An infringing copy has to be fixed. One interesting issue in copyright law is the legality of copying a program into RAM: should this count as copyright infringement? Some courts have incredibly said "yes," even though it's hard to see how RAM can be fixed and a cathode ray tube is not.