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Copyright Law

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What Is Copyright?

A copyright is a right to prevent others from using your originally authored work Copyright law is almost like trademark law, which covers logos and brand names, which protects inventions. The item or work to be copyrighted should be an original, and not a reproduction or copy of property that is already copyrighted. 

Under the federal copyright law, a copyright entitles the owner to many exclusive rights, such as the right to:

  • Reproduce the copyrighted work
  • Distribute copies of the copyrighted work to the public for sale
  • Perform the copyrighted work
  • Rights to produce a license that are derived from other copyright materials
  • Licensing rights to manufacture and make a product

What are the Different Types of Copyrighted Works?

Copyrights can protect endless types of creative work such as:

  • Recorded or sheet music
  • Books and novels
  • Software codes, video games, and CD-ROMs, although these may not be protected if they have already been distributed through a "copyleft" agreement
  • Art, such as paintings, plays, dance choreography, and sculptures

What Is Copyright Protection?

Under the federal law, you get a copyright to your work automatically once you have "fixed" your original work in a "tangible medium of expression." You must have independently created the work and not adapted it from something else. The work must also be placed in a sufficiently permanent medium so others can reproduce, view or communicate it. 

Copyright protection arises the moment an author fixes a work in a tangible form without the author having to do anything. Once a type of work has copyright protection, the inventor or creator decides who can use the work and for what purposes the work can be used. Once the work is protected, no one else can use the work without the creator’s permission.

Should I Register a Copyright? 

There are a number of reasons you should still formally register your copyright. While your work does have automatic copyright protection once it fits the above description, you are limited in your remedies if you do not properly register the copyright.

For example, copyright registration will affect:

  • Lawsuits - If you are a U.S. copyright owner, you must register your copyright before initiating an action for copyright infringement
  • Damages - You cannot get damages for infringement for any period before the copyright is registered
  • Evidence - The registration of copyright, in addition to some other criteria, is proof of the validity of a copyright

An owner and creator of original work can register a copyright at the U.S. Copyright Office. Usually, an owner needs to fill out a form specific to the work that the owner wishes to register, and submit a fee.

What Is Copyright Infringement?

Copyright infringement occurs when a person violates the exclusive rights of the copyright holder. For instance, only the copyright owner of a play may perform the play in public places for profit. If another person or company attempts to perform the play in public for profit, they might be held liable for infringement. Another example is when a person sells copyrighted songs without permission.

Punishment for infringement can include civil charges for lost profits and other consequences such as confiscation of the unauthorized material. Federal charges can also apply in some infringement cases, making it a very serious offense.

Should I Consult an Attorney about My Copyright Issue?

An intellectual property attorney can help you meet all the deadlines and fulfill all the requirements. A lawyer can also participate in on-going research to make certain no one else is using your copyright without your permission. Additionally, if you have an issue of copyright infringement, an attorney can guide you through the difficult and strict procedural requirements for litigation and bring out the core of your case.

Vea esta página en español: Derechos de Autor o visita Abogados-Leyes.com para más información legal.

Photo of page author Ki Akhbari

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 03-16-2016 03:52 PM PDT

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