A copyright is a bundle of rights in an original work of authorship. This is an important area of law because it deals with the right of an author or artist to receive credit (be acknowledged) for creating their work. It is a way of recognizing the creativity and effort that has gone into crafting a new work.
Copyright is an intricate area of law, which is grounded in our U.S. Constitution and codified in federal law. If you have questions about your copyright, it is best to contact an intellectual property attorney who has knowledge in this area. That being said, here are ten things you should know about copyright.
1. What does copyright protect?
Copyright protects original works of authorship, including:
The work must contain at least a minimum amount of creativity in order to be protectable by copyright.
2. What is the “bundle of rights” copyright protects?
The owner of a copyright has the exclusive right to:
Copyright infringement occurs when any of these exclusive rights are violated.
3. Who owns a copyright?
Copyright is owned by the author of the work – that is, the person who created it.
4. Can I find out if someone owns a copyright in a work?
Your best starting place is to examine the work to locate a copyright notice. That notice should include the name of the owner. You can also look at the context of the work, to determine whether any clues may tell you who owns rights in the work.
You can search records at the Copyright Office through its Copyright Catalog, which is found on their website, www.copyright.gov, under the “Resources” heading. The catalog includes works from 1978 to present. However, the Copyright Office cautions that searching records can often be complex and incomplete. Therefore, if you do not find owner information in the Copyright Office Catalog, this does not mean the work is not protected by copyright.
5. How is copyright different from a patent or trademark?
Along with patent, trademark and trade secret, copyright recognizes and protects intangible products of the mind. These areas of law are commonly referred to as intellectual property.
Generally speaking, copyright protects original works of authorship, while patents protect inventions, and trademarks protect words, phrases, symbols or designs that identify a source of goods or services of one party and distinguish them from those of others.
All of these forms of protection can be used together to protect a company’s valuable intellectual property assets.
6. When does copyright protection begin?
Copyright protection begins once your work is created and fixed in a tangible form.
7. Do I have to register my work with the Copyright Office to have protection?
No. Generally speaking, copyright registration is voluntary. However, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work, you will need to register your copyright. Registration may also provide you with evidentiary benefits in court and may provide access to additional damages if your lawsuit is successful.
8. If I want to register my copyright, how can I do it?
To register a copyright, you will need three things: (1) an application form, (2) a filing fee (either $35 or $55, depending upon the material you wish to register), and (3) a nonrefundable deposit of the work – a copy or copies of the work being registered and “deposited” with the Copyright Office.
You can apply to register your work online or in paper. To begin either process, you will need to visit the Copyright Office website: www.copyright.gov. The online application can be found by clicking on electronic Copyright Office from the website. The paper application can be found under the Forms section on the website.
9. Can I copyright my website?
Yes, original authorship appearing on a website may be protected by copyright. Some elements of a website that may be copyrightable include: text, photographs, illustrations, and other two-dimensional artwork, music, sound recordings, and videos or other audiovisual works. As a general rule, you should submit a separate application for each component work appearing on your website.
10. How long does a copyright last?
As a general rule, for works created after January 1, 1978, copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years. If two or more authors created a work together, the term lasts for 70 years after the last surviving author’s death. The term of copyright will run through the end of the calendar year in which it expires.
Bonus: Practice Tip.
Use a copyright notice on all of your original work. This is an easy, inexpensive step you can take to put the public on notice that you claim rights in your work. A typical copyright notice will include the “circle R,” a date, a reservation notice, and the name of the owner. For example:
© 2018 Weaver Legal and Consulting, LLC. All rights expressly reserved.
The copyright notice will also give any person who would like to use your material a way to contact you. As an added bonus, this gives people a way to contact you for follow up questions and can lead to new connections.
I hope this general information is helpful to you. If you would like to read more, the Copyright Office website has a wealth of information. I am also happy to answer questions or provide additional information.
Karrie Weaver practices intellectual property, trademark, and patent law. Additionally, she assists nonprofits with their charitable organization and 501(c)(3) status.