Copyright is a form of automatic protection granted to an author of an original work. A copyright is awarded the moment a creative expression is put into a tangible form. A copyright protects any literary, artistic or musical materials created.

A copyright is the exclusive legal right for the author to reproduce, distribute, display, perform, film and make derivatives of to the work they created ” like making a movie from someone else’s script.

A copyright is designed to protect individual forms of expression rather than the subject matter that is expressed. For example, you can’t copyright bowling, but you can copyright a song you wrote about bowling.

What can you copyright?

Once a creative work is documented in a fixed format, it is protected by copyright. There are eight categories of works that are considered copyrightable.

A copyright cannot protect names, short phrases, facts, formulas, ideas, processes, operations, titles, principles or discoveries.

How do you get a copyright?

Copyright exists automatically the moment an author reduces a work into a tangible form. The Copyright Office refers to this as publishing. The creative work is not required to be registered, but there are some advantages to getting it federally recorded if it is.

A registered copyright serves as a good way to create a public record of your copyright and can help a judge award statutory provisions if an infringement lawsuit should arise. Among other benefits, having it registered with the Copyright Office can be the evidence you need to prove you created the work.

To get a certificate of registration for a copyright, it typically takes six months from the date of filing.

Honestly, not every work should have the time and money invested in it for federal protection. A good rule of thumb is to get a work registered if it is commercially important to your business.

Copyright notice

Since 1989, a copyright notice has not been required in the United States. But it is a good idea to have one.

A valid copyright notice should contain the “C” in a circle (©), the word “copyright,” the name of the author or owner and the date of publication.

A valid copyright notice attached to your original work indicates you are the owner of the expression. Displaying the copyright notice makes it difficult for an infringer to say in court that they didn’t know the work was protected. Another reason a copyright notice is helpful is that it can make tracking down the owner of an expression easier if someone is looking to seek permission to use it.

How is a copyright different from other IP protections?

Copyright protects original works of authorship. A patent protects inventions or discoveries. However, copyright can protect the way an idea or discovery are expressed. A trademark protects words/phrases and symbols/designs, or a combination of both, that identifies a source of a good or service.

Can someone else use a trademark?

The author has the right to allow others to use their work if permission is requested. If someone is found using the work without gaining permission, at the very least, you will be entitled to lost profits and perhaps statutory damages.

When working with independent contractors, there is an important term called “work made for hire.” This means if there is “work made for hire” language in an agreement, you will obtain ownership of the work created by the contractor. In an employee/employer relationship, no such language is needed as the employer owns the rights to all works created by employees.

How long does copyright last?

The length of a copyright protection depends on a work’s date of first publication and whether or not it has been published.

Most often, a copyright protection lasts for 70 years after the author dies.

If it is a work with an anonymous author or a pseudonymous work, the copyright lasts for 95 years from when it was first publicized, or it has a term of 120 years from the year of its creation ” whichever comes first.

Once copyright expires, the work floats into the public domain and is free to be used without restrictions.

Fair use

Fair use, as it is called, allows someone to use a copyrighted work without getting permission if the manner they use it falls in line with the circumstances outlined by Congress.

Typically, it is considered fair if the use is for parody, criticism, comment, news reporting, research, scholarship and nonprofit educational purposes.

A fair use distinction also factors in if the work has impacted the sales of the copied material and how much material has been taken from the original work.

A lot of effort goes into your creative works, and that effort deserves a high degree of protection. Seeking help from an intellectual property attorney who is knowledgeable in all aspects of the field will always be your best option.