What is Copyright?
Copyright is exclusive legal right to control the copies of a work. It’s a form of legal protection to “original works of authorship,” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and other works.
Copyright gives the copyright owner the exclusive right to authorize others to
- Reproduce the work
- To prepare derivative works
- To distribute copies to the public
- To perform the work publicly, and
- To display the work publicly
What is not protected by Copyright?
Several categories not eligible for federal copyright protection include:
- Works that have not been fixed in a tangible form of expression (e.g., unrecorded live broadcasts)
- Titles, names, short phrases (e.g. “you’re fired”), and slogans (“just do it”); familiar symbols or designs; lettering or coloring
- Ideas, procedures, processes, discoveries, or devices, as distinguished from a description, explanation, or illustration
- Work consisting entirely of information that is common property containing no original authorship (e.g., standard calendars, height and weight charts, tape measures, and lists or tables taken from public documents or other common sources)
How to secure a copyright
Copyright is secured automatically when the work is created. No publication, registration or other action is required to secure copyright. A work is “created” when it is fixed in tangible form for the first time. If a work is prepared over a period of time, then the part that is fixed on a particular date constitutes the created work as of that date.
Copyright registration makes a public record of a copyright’s basic facts. Registration is not a condition of copyright protection. The law provides several advantages to encourage registration:
- Registration establishes a public record of the copyright claim.
- Registration within 3 months of publication or prior to infringement permits statutory damages (up to $150,000 per infringing use) and attorney’s fees.
- Registration allows one to record the registration with the U.S. Customs Service for protection against the importation of infringing copies.
- If made before or within 5 years of publication, registration establishes evidence of the copyright’s validity.
- Registration may be made at any time within the life of the copyright.
- Before an infringement suit can be filed in court, registration is necessary for works of U.S. origin.
To register a work, file the following three elements with the U.S. Copyright Office:
- A properly completed application form.
- A nonrefundable filing fee for each application; expedited fees are available.
- A non-returnable deposit of the work being registered. Deposit requirements vary.
Special deposit requirements exist for motion pictures:
For motion pictures you must submit one complete copy and a separate written description of its contents, such as a script, press book, or synopsis with the application and fee.
Effective date of registration
Registration is effective on the date the Copyright Office receives all required elements in acceptable form, regardless of how long it then takes to process the application and mail the certificate of registration. Processing takes about 6 months from the filing date.
Who may file an application?
- The author — the person who actually created the work or, if the work was made for hire, the employer.
- The copyright claimant — either the author or a person or organization that has obtained legal title to the copyright.
- The duly authorized agent of an author, claimant, or owner.
There is no requirement that applications be prepared or filed by an attorney.
Notice of Copyright
Copyright notice is no longer required under U.S. law, although it informs the public that the work is protected, identifies the copyright owner, and shows the year of first publication. The notice for visually perceptible copies should contain three elements: (e.g., © 2002 Hammerman PLLC):
- The symbol © (the letter C in a circle), or the word “Copyright,” or the abbreviation “Copr.” Don’t use parentheses around the C, or even the @ sign, which has been attempted unsuccessfully.
- The year of first publication.
- The copyright owner’s name, or an abbreviation or designation by which it can be recognized.
Mandatory deposit for works published in the U.S.
The Copyright Act establishes a mandatory deposit requirement for works published in the U.S. The copyright owner has a legal obligation to deposit in the Copyright Office, within 3 months of publication, copies for the Library of Congress’ Use. Failure to make the deposit can result in fines — which are enforced — of up to $2500 in addition to the retail price of the work, and other penalties.
For further information
Circulars, announcements, regulations, other related materials, and all application forms are available at www.copyright.gov.