Book Copyright Law

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 What Is a Copyright?

A copyright provides the owner with the right to prevent others from using an originally authored work. Copyright laws are similar to trademark laws.

Trademark laws protect brand names and logos. Another category of intellectual property law, patent law, protects inventions.

The work or item that is to be copyrighted should be an original and not a reproduction or a copy of a work or item that is already copyrighted. Under federal copyright laws, the copyright entitles the owner to many rights, including:

  • The right to reproduce the copyrighted work;
  • The right to distribute a copy of the work that is copyrighted for sale to the public;
  • The right to perform the copyrighted work;
  • The rights to produce a license that are derived from other copyright materials; and
  • Licensing rights to manufacture, or make, a product.

What Are the Different Types of Copyrighted Works?

A copyright can protect endless different creative works, including:

  • Recorded or sheet music;
  • Books and novels;
  • Software codes, video games, and CD-ROMs;
    • These, however, may not be protected if they have already been distributed using a copyleft agreement; and
  • Art, which may include:
    • paintings;
    • plays;
    • dance choreography; and
    • sculptures.

What Is Copyright Protection?

Under federal copyright laws, an individual is given a copyright to their work automatically once they have fixed their original work in a tangible medium of expression. An individual must have independently created the work and not adapted from another work.

The work must have been placed in a sufficiently permanent medium so that other individuals may do the following with the work:

  • Reproduce;
  • View; or
  • Communicate.

Copyright protections also arise when the author fixes their work in a tangible form without them having to take any steps. Once a work has copyright protection, the inventor or creator decides who may use the work as well as for what purposes the work may be used.

Once a work is protected, no other individuals can use the work without the creator’s permission.

How Do I Obtain a Copyright for a Book?

As noted above, in the United States, under copyright law, a copyright automatically arises when a work is fixed in a tangible medium of expression. A book must be expressed in a medium that is sufficiently permanent so that it may be viewed and reproduced.

Typically, an original draft of a book is evidence that the book is protected by copyright law. A copyright does not protect basic ideas.

Instead, they protect their particular artistic expression, or fixation. Therefore, if an author presents an idea in a way that is unique and original, their book will be copyrighted.

This is different from patents that protect physical inventions and objects. It is also different from trademarks, which are symbols that are used to identify particular products.

The protections that are associated with copyrights will only exist for a certain amount of time. After this, the book is said to enter into the public domain.

When the book enters the public domain, it can be used by the public without risk of copyright infringement. An author may choose to register their copyright for further protections.

What Rights Does a Book Copyright Grant to the Author?

If an author chooses to copyright a book, it allows them to exercise exclusive control over the reproduction and distribution of their work. An author also receives rights over derivative works, for example adaptations of the book, such as turning the book into a movie, as well as certain rights related to public performances or displays of the book.

Of these rights, the most important and commonly disputed is the right to reproduce the work. The term copyright originally referred to an individual’s right to copy a particular book.

Should I Register My Copyright?

Yes, registering your copyright provides certain rights and protections. A holder of a book copyright should also register their book copyright with the United States Copyright Office (Library of Congress).

If an individual registers their copyright, it provides them with additional protections that are not available to unregistered works. For example, if an individual registers their copyright, it allows them to:

  • File a lawsuit for copyright infringement;
  • Obtain damages for infringement; and
  • Use the copyright as evidence in court.

If an individual wishes to register their copyrighted book with the U.S. Copyright Office, they should complete and submit Form TX or Short Form TX. It is important to note that there may be processing fees associated with registration.

Registration may also be completed electronically using From CO.

What If Someone Has Violated My Rights under Copyright Laws?

Copyright infringement arises when an individual violates the exclusive rights of the copyright holder. For example, only the copyright owner of a play is permitted to perform that play in a public place for profit.

If another company or individual attempts to perform the play in public for profit, they may be held liable for infringement. Another example is when an individual sells a copyrighted song without permission.

The punishment for copyright infringement may include civil charges for lost profits as well as other consequences, including the confiscation of the unauthorized material. Federal charges may also apply in certain infringement cases, which makes infringement a very serious offense.

If an individual’s book is protected under copyright laws, other individuals or entities may not use or reproduce the work without the owner’s permission. If an individual feels that their right has been violated, they may wish to file a copyright infringement lawsuit.

In a lawsuit that involves the copyright infringement of a literary work, the individual who holds the copyright must prove that:

  • The defendant had access to the work; and
  • The defendant republished a work that is sufficiently similar to the plaintiff’s copyrighted work.

A plaintiff will usually be able to recover monetary damages for their lost profits related to the infringement. In certain cases, punitive damages may be available if the violation was willful.

In the alternative, an individual may also file for an injunction. An injunction requests that a court prevent other individuals or entities from using the copyrighted work.

How Can a Copyright Attorney Help with a Copyright Issue?

A copyright attorney can assist with numerous different types of copyright issues. A copyright lawyer may be hired by an individual or a business to:

  • Give advice regarding copyright laws;
  • Settle a copyright dispute;
  • Answer specific legal questions; or
  • Ensure that the individual or entity is in compliance with the law.

Copyright attorneys can also inform clients when a work is not original enough to claim a copyright for it. A lawyer can also assist an individual with proving lost sales resulting from infringement.

A copyright attorney can also determine whether or not a work falls under the complex copyright regulation called the fair use doctrine. The fair use doctrine is based on the idea that members of the public may use parts of copyrighted materials for the purposes of commentary or criticism.

Should I Hire a Lawyer?

Copyright protections are important aspects of publishing books. If you believe that your rights have been violated or if you want to register your work, it may be helpful to consult with a copyright lawyer.

Your lawyer can advise you of all of the rights and limitations that are associated with copyrights for books. This is especially important if your writing is your livelihood and needs protecting.

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