Copyright refers to a collection of exclusive rights designed to protect the creators of original works of authorship, which includes virtually any type of creative work, such as books, music recordings, movies, paintings, photographs, software, architectural works, and more.

U.S. copyright law provides the creators of these works with certain exclusive rights to their work, including the right to reproduce, publish, and publicly perform their works.

These rights are “exclusive” in that only the copyright owner can exercise them – if anyone else does, they are committing copyright infringement.

These rights include:

  • Reproduction Rights: The rights to make copies of the work that is protected
  • Distribution Rights: The right to sell and distribute the work to the public
  • Right to Prepare New Work based on protected work already published
  • The right to perform and display the work in public
  • The author is the only person that can exercise these rights

What Type of Work Copyright Protect?

Copyright protects works such as movies, poetry, videos, music, recorded performances, software, photographs, creative designs, and novels. The work is intended to be protected must be original and created independently by the author who wants to have the creative work protected from being copied. As long as the work that is created has its own original design and is not copied from someone else’s creative design, the work can be protected. 

How Long Does Copyright Protection Last?

Copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus another 70 years if the work was created after 1977. Works that are created after 1922, but before 1978 have a 95-year protection.

The work is considered created and published when the author makes it available to the public without restriction. If the work is still displayed and available to the public with restrictions, then the work is not considered published and the copyright duration has not begun.

What Can a Copyright Lawyer Do for You?

Like all areas of intellectual property law, many of the principles behind copyright law are counter-intuitive, abstract, and conceptual. Being a form of intangible property, it makes sense that copyright law involves few concretes. Accordingly, it takes a special mind to be a good copyright lawyer. Furthermore, misconceptions about copyright law, perhaps more so than any other area of law, abound among the general public.

These misconceptions include confusion between the basic forms of intellectual property (copyright, trademarks, patents) and the differences between them, as well as a few urban myths about the law that refuse to die – such as the ever popular “poor man’s copyright” – the notion that you can mail a copy of your work to yourself in order to prove ownership (without going into detail, suffice it to say that this will not help you in any way).

Do I Need a Copyright Lawyer?

If you have created an original work of authorship, and plan to publish or otherwise make economic use of it, or if you simply want to prevent others from using it without your permission, you should contact a intellectual property lawyer. 

A copyright lawyer can assist you in registering your work with the U.S. Copyright Office (this is not a requirement for copyright protection, but it creates nearly irrefutable proof of ownership of the work, and allows the owner to recover damages that cannot be recovered if the work is not registered), can help draft a cease-and-desist letter if you think your work is being infringed, and can help you pursue legal action against an infringer, if it comes to that. 

Furthermore, if you intend to sell your copyright to a third party, an attorney experienced in copyright licensing could of great assistance to you – drafting the licensing agreement to ensure that your intentions are met, and to avoid placing ambiguities into the contract that might compromise the entire transaction.