Copyrights are used to prevent other individuals or entities from using an individual’s originally authored work. Copyright laws are used to protect original works of authorship.
The work or item that will be copyrighted should be an original and not a copy or reproduction of property that is already copyrighted. Pursuant to federal copyright laws, copyrights entitle owners to numerous exclusive rights, including the right to:
- Reproduce the copyrighted work;
- Distribute copies of the copyrighted work for sale to the public;
- Perform the copyrighted work;
- Produce a license, which is derived from other copyright materials; and
- Licensing rights to manufacture and make a product.
What are the Different Types of Copyrighted Works?
A copyright can be used to protect endless forms of creative works, including:
- Musical; and
These categories of works may include:
- Recorded or sheet music;
- Books and novels;
- Computer software, video games, and CD-ROMs;
- These items may not be protected if they were already distributed through a copyleft agreement; and
- Art, which includes:
- dance choreography; and
What is Copyright Protection?
Under federal laws, an individual automatically receives a copyright to their original work once it is fixed into a “tangible medium of expression.” An individual must have created their work and not adapted it from something already in existence.
The work is required to be in a sufficiently permanent medium so that other entities are able to communicate, view, or reproduce it. Copyright protections apply the moment the author fixes their work in a tangible form without them being required to take any steps.
Once an original work has copyright protection, the creator or inventor will be able to determine who is permitted to use the work and for what purposes the work may be used. Once a work is protected, no other individuals are permitted to use the work without the permission of the creator.
Should I Register a Copyright?
Although copyright protections apply automatically, there are numerous reasons why an individual should still formally register their copyright. If a work is not registered for copyright protections, the owner will be limited in their remedies if infringement occurs.
For example, copyright registration affects:
- Lawsuits: If an individual is a U.S. copyright owner, they are required to register their copyright prior to initiating an action for copyright infringement;
- Damages: An individual cannot collect damages for infringement for any period prior to the registration of the copyright; and
- Evidence: The registration of copyright, in addition to other criteria, is proof of the validity of the copyright.
The creator and owner of an original work can register a copyright at the United States Copyright Office. Typically, the owner will be required to complete a form that is specific to the work they desire to register as well as to submit a fee.
What is Copyright Law?
Copyrights are a collection of exclusive rights that are designed to protect creators of original works of authorship. These laws provide creators of works with exclusive rights to their work, including the right to do the following with their works:
- Publish; and
- Publicly perform.
These rights are exclusive, meaning that only the copyright owner can exercise them. If any other individual or entity does, they are committing copyright infringement.
Copyright laws provide the following rights to owners:
- Reproduction rights, or the rights to make copies of the work that is protected;
- Distribution rights, or the right to sell and distribute the work to the public;
- Right to prepare new work that is based on protected work which has already been published;
- The right to perform and display the work in public; and
- The author is the only individual that can exercise these rights.
What is Copyright Infringement?
Copyright infringement arises when an individual violates the executive rights of the holder of the copyright. For example, only the owner of a copyrighted play is permitted to perform that play in a public place for profit.
If another entity or company attempts to perform that copyrighted play in public for profit, they may be held liable for copyright infringement. Another example of copyright infringement arises when an individual or entity sells copyrighted songs without permission.
The punishment for copyright infringement may include civil liability for lost profits as well as other consequences, typically including the confiscation of the unauthorized material. Federal charges may also arise in certain infringement cases, making it a very serious offense.
What Type of Works can be Copyright Protected?
As noted above, certain types of original works can be copyright protected, which may include, but is not limited to:
- Recorded performances;
- Creative designs; and
- Other works.
The work to be copyrighted is required to be original and independently created by the author who desires to have their creative work protected from being copied. So long as the work that is created has its own original design and is not copied from another creative design, that work can be protected.
How Long Does Copyright Protection Last?
Copyright protections last for the lifetime of the creator in addition to another 70 years if that work was created after 1977. Works that were created after 1922 but prior to 1978 will have 95 years of protection.
A work is considered to be created and published when the author makes that work available to the public without restriction. If a work is displayed and available to the public, but has restrictions, it is not considered published and, therefore, the copyright duration has not begun.
What Can a Copyright Lawyer Do for You?
Similar to many areas of intellectual property law, many of the principles of copyright law can seem conceptual, abstract, and counter-intuitive. Because copyrights are a form of intangible property, copyright law involves few concretes.
There are also many misconceptions related to copyright law held by the general public, perhaps more so than in other areas of law. These misconceptions often include confusing the basic forms of intellectual property, copyright, trademarks, and patents, and the differences between them.
There is also one common misconception, the poor man’s copyright. This is the idea that an individual can mail themselves a copy of their work in order to prove their ownership.
This however, is not sufficient and will not help an individual in any way.
Do I Need a Copyright Lawyer?
If you have created an original work of authorship and you plan to publish or make another economic use of it or you simply wish to prevent other individuals or entities from using your work without your permission, it may be in your best interests to consult with a copyright lawyer.
Your copyright lawyer can assist you with registering your original work with the United States Copyright Office. As noted above, this is not required for copyright protection, but it does create nearly irrefutable proof of ownership of the work, and allows you to recover damages that cannot be recovered if the work is not registered.
If infringement of your work occurs, your lawyer can draft a cease-and-desist letter and can help you pursue legal action against the infringer, if it is required. In addition, if you want to sell your copyright to a third party, your attorney can assist you by drafting the licensing agreement to ensure that your intentions are met as well as to avoid placing ambiguities into the contract that might compromise the entire transaction.