What is copyright?
Copyrights are intellectual property that protect original works of authorship. It protects original literary or artistic works. It is the exclusive legal right given to an originator (or an assignee) to reproduce, distribute, perform, display, and prepare derivative works based on the work. It also gives the owner the right to let others exercise these exclusive rights (license), subject to certain statutory limitations.
Copyright protects an original work as soon as the author “fixes the work in a tangible form of expression.” In other words, when you, or someone working for you, creates and posts, publishes, or prints the work, it is protected by copyright.
Titles, names, short phrases, slogans, symbols, listings of contents or ingredients, and mere variations of font and coloring are not creative and thus are not copyrightable. However, you may be able to protect these things with a trademark. Copyright does not protect ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, or discoveries. However, you may be able to protect these things with a patent. Consult with a copyright attorney for any questions.
A copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years. Registration is not mandatory but can offer enhanced protection.
Important TIP: You can register your own work. For infringement issues you should consult a copyright attorney.
US Federal Registration
The US Copyright Office manages copyrights. They promote creativity and free expression by administering the nation’s copyright laws and by providing impartial, expert advice on copyright law and policy for the benefit of all. It provides online capability to register, record, and research. There are a lot of resources and educational content available at copyright.gov. You can register your own work fairly easily. Or, a copyright attorney can do it for you.
What is eligible for copyright
The law says there must be “some minimal degree of creativity.” Consult an attorney if there are any questions. However, the works eligible for protection include the following.
- Artistic Works. For example: drawings, sketches, models, paintings, photos, and sculptures.
- Concerts and other Live Performances.
- Computer Software & Hardware.
- Literary Works. For example: articles, blogs, stories, plays, websites.
- Musical Compositions.
- Technical Drawings.
- Television Shows.
What works are not eligible
There are some areas where a copyright cannot be claimed. You cannot get one for the following kinds of works.
- Ideas. For example, the idea for the artistic or literary work is not protected, but how it is specifically expressed is.
- Methods of Operation.
How to get one (how to copyright my work)
You actually “get” the copyright by creating the work. Registration is not required. You can register your work at any point when the work is still eligible. Works are eligible based on when (what date) it was created and when (what date) it was published.
There are three steps in the registration process.
- First, filling out the application. Filing is done online in the Registration Portal.
- Second, paying the application fee. Paying the fee is done online as well.
- Third, making a deposit of the work. Depositing the work is uploading it.
The advantages of registration include the following three things.
- Having a public record of the claim.
- Being able to file an infringement lawsuit in court. Infringement is a federal crime.
- Receiving return of legal fees for infringement claims if you win a suit.
How much does it cost?
The filing is fee is $35 or $55 if you do it yourself. Hiring an attorney will add to the cost. Carson Patents® charges $420 to prepare and file for you, in addition to the filing fee.
How long does it take to get?
You will get your registration certificate in 2-18 months from time of filing the application. There is a way to get a registration issued in about a week. However, there are additional costs totaling $1020.
How does it last?
The time limit depends on the date of the work.
- Anything created after January 1, 1978, has a duration for the life of the author plus 70 years. However, for anonymous work, pseudonymous work, or works made for hire, it lasts for a term of 95 years from first publication, or 120 years from creation – whichever expires first.
- Anything created prior to January 1, 1978, not in the public domain, and not claimed has the same duration as works created after this date. However, the duration of such a work will not expire before December 31, 2002, and if it is published on or before December 31, 2002, the duration shall not expire before December 31, 2047.
When is there copyright infringement?
Infringement is when someone breaks the law and uses the work of another without permission. If someone uses your work without your permission they are likely infringing. Infringement is a federal crime. Consult with an attorney if you suspect your work has been infringed or someone is infringing on your work.
Important TIP: Infringement can occur whether or not the person infringing did it by mistake or on purpose. Consult with an attorney with any questions.