Copyright 101

How to protect your works

If you have created an artistic design, taken photographs, written an article or a book you have probably wondered how to protect your works from being duplicated by other people. The term for this protection is a Copyright. This article will answer some of the basic questions about copyrights and there effect on daily life and business.

What Is a Copyright?

A copyright is a form of protection provided by federal laws to the authors of “original works of authorship.” These include things such as literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works. The protection applies to works that have been published and even those works which have not been published. This copyright generally gives the owner the exclusive right to do and to authorize others to reproduce the work, prepare derivatives of the work, perform the work, or display the work. It is generally illegal for anyone to violate the rights provided by the copyright law. However, the rights are not unlimited in scope and some copies of works are exempted from copyright laws.

Who Can Claim Copyright?

The person who created the work is the owner of the copyright and is the person who can claim copyright protection. An exception exists if the work was “made for hire.” A typical example of a “work made for hire” is the situation where someone is employed to write or prepare something on behalf of someone else. In this situation the employer is the owner of the copyright.

What Types of Works Are Protected?

Copyright protects “original works of authorship” that are fixed in a tangible form of expression. Copyrightable works include the following categories:

  • literary works;
  • musical works, including any accompanying words
  • dramatic works, including any accompanying music
  • pantomimes and choreographic works
  • pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
  • motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  • sound recordings
  • architectural works

These categories should be viewed broadly. For example, computer programs and most “compilations” may be registered as “literary works”; maps and architectural plans may be registered as “pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works.”

How do I Secure a Copyright?

A copyright is actually secured immediately upon creation of the work. The work is created when it is fixed in a “copy” or “phonorecord” for the first time. A copy is a material objects from which a work can be read or visually perceived either directly or with the aid of a machine or device, such as books, manuscripts, sheet music, film, videotape, or microfilm. A phonorecord is a material object embodying fixations of sounds such as cassette tapes, CDs, or LPs.

Do I Have to Register a Copyright?

No publication or registration or other action in the United States Copyright Office is required to secure copyright. There are, however, certain definite advantages to registration including:

  • Establishing a public record of the copyright claim.
  • Must file to be able to bring an infringement suit in court.
  • Under certain circumstances registration will establish prima facie evidence in court of the validity of the copyright and of the facts stated in the certificate.
  • Under certain circumstances it can provide for statutory damages and attorney’s fees for the copyright owner in court actions.

Do I have to Use a Notice of Copyright?

The use of a copyright notice is no longer required under U.S. law, although it is often beneficial. Because prior law did contain such a requirement, however, the use of notice is still relevant to the copyright status of older works.

Use of the notice may be important because it informs the general public that a particular work is protected by copyright, identifies the copyright owner, and shows the year of first publication. Furthermore, in the event that a work is infringed, if a proper notice of copyright appears on the published copy or copies to which a defendant in a copyright infringement suit had access, then no weight shall be given to such a defendants interposition of a defense based on innocent infringement in mitigation of actual or statutory damages.

How do I provide Notice of Copyright?

The notice for visually perceptible works should contain all the following three elements:

  1. The symbol © (the letter C in a circle), or the word “Copyright,” or the abbreviation “Copr.”;
  2. The year of first publication of the work. and
  3. The name of the owner of copyright in the work, or an abbreviation by which the name can be recognized, or a generally known alternative designation of the owner.

While this information is certainly not exhaustive it provides a general guideline regarding the use and effect of copyrights. If you have more specific questions contact an attorney in your area who handles these types of matters.

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