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Copyright FAQs

What is a copyright?
What works are protected under copyright law?
What does copyright law not protect?
When does a copyright attach?
What are the benefits of copyright registration?
How to get a copyright?
Which of the many copyright forms is the right form for me?
Are copyrights transferable?
How is copyright protection distinct from trademark and patent protection?
How long does copyright protection last?
Do I have to renew a copyright?
What happens when a copyright registration expires?
When does a work enter the public domain?
What is copyright work for Hire?
Is Copyright notice required in order to receive copyright protection?
How is copyright notice properly displayed?
In which countries is my copyright respected?
What do I do if someone comes up with a highly similar work of authorship to my work?
What is the copyright fair use defense?
Who is an author?
What is the proper branch of intellectual property law to protect my business name,copyright?
How to copyright a name, title, slogan or logo?
Do I have to be a US citizen to register copyrights?
What is a derivative work?




What is a copyright?

Copyright is a form of protection provided to creators of "original works of authorship," including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works. This protection is available to both published and unpublished works. The Copyright Act grants the owner of the copyright the exclusive right to do any of the following:

-To reproduce the work;
-To prepare derivative works based upon the work;
-To distribute copies of the work to the public by sale, lease, licensing, or lending;
-To perform the work publicly; and
-To display the copyrighted work publicly.

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What works are protected under copyright law?

Copyrightable works include the following categories:

* (1) literary works;
* (2) musical works, including any accompanying words;
* (3) dramatic works, including any accompanying music;
* (4) pantomimes and choreographic works;
* (5) pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works;
* (6) motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
* (7) sound recordings; and
* (8) architectural works.

These categories are viewed broadly. For example, computer programs and most "compilations" may be registered as "literary works"; maps and architectural plans may be registered as "pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works."

All of the following creative works are entitled to copyright protection, fiction and nonfiction books, websites, plays or movie scripts, videos, musical works, computer software, catalogs, dissertations, compilations, and probably anything else that you have created.

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What does copyright law not protect?

Several categories of material are generally not eligible for federal copyright protection. These include among others:

Works consisting entirely of information that is common property and containing no original authorship (for example: standard calendars, height and weight charts, tape measures and rulers, and lists or tables taken from public documents or other common sources)

Works that have not been fixed in a tangible form of expression (for example, choreographic works that have not been notated or recorded, or improvisational speeches or performances that have not been written or recorded)

Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devices. For an idea or any of the above to receive protection it must be patented, not copyrighted.

Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; familiar symbols or designs; mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, or coloring. Many clients will ask us how to copyright a name? Unfortunately, the answer to how to copyright a name is that a name cannot be copyrighted. However, a company or product name can be protected by a trademark registration. See Registering A Trademark and Trademark FAQs for more information.

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When does a copyright attach?

Since the law was changed in 1978, copyright protection exists immediately once a work is fixed in a tangible form. Tangible form means a form that is directly perceptible or perceptible with the aid of a machine or devise. For instance, if you sing a song in the shower the song does not garner copyright protection at this time, because it is not being fixed in a tangible media, but if you sing it into a tape recorder it is fixed in a tangible media and so copyright protection would attach.

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What are the benefits of copyright registration?

Although since 1978 copyright vests at the moment of fixation in a tangible medium, registration of your copyright with the US Copyright Government Office is important for several reasons:

1. Copyright registration establishes a public record of the copyright claim.
2. Copyright registration is a prerequisite to filing an infringement suit in the U.S.
3. No award for statutory damages or the fees of your copyright attorney will be granted by the court for any infringement of a copyright in an unpublished work which occurs prior to the copyright registration. The same holds true for published works, unless the registration is made within three months after the first publication.

The are several remedies available for copyright infringement. A court can enjoin an infringer from continuing his infringement. The court can also order that all infringing materials be seized. As for monetary damages, the injured party can choose to receive either his actual damages and profits made by the infringer or statutory damages which can be as high as $150,000.

Registration may be made at any time within the life of the copyright.

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How to get a copyright?

How to get a copyright is actually easier than many people may imagine. While it is a very long and expensive process getting a trademark registration or patent protection, learning how to copyright mainly involves finding the proper category of copyright forms to fill out and then following the directions provided by the US copyright government office. The US copyright government office is by far the best source for getting free copyright information, copyright forms, learning how to get a copyright, and finding copyright information to authors.

While how to get a copyright is explained in more detail in the instructions of the copyright forms, all that is generally required for getting a copyright include sending the following three elements in the same envelope or package to the:

Library of Congress
Copyright Office
101 Independence Avenue, S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20559-6000

1. A properly completed application form.
2. A nonrefundable filing fee of $30 for each application.
3. A nonreturnable deposit of the work being registered.

Deposit requirements are one complete copy for unpublished works and two complete copies of the best edition for published works. However, if the work was first published outside the United States, one complete copy of the work as first published.

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Which of the many copyright forms is the right form for me?

Review the various copyright forms below to determine which of these copyright forms provides your creative work with the best protection. You can download all of these copyright forms at the US Copyright Government Office website listed above or order copyright forms by calling the US Copyright Office at (202) 707-9100.

Note that we use the plural term, copyright forms, rather than the singular term, copyright form. Almost all applicants only need to fill out just one form, but two copyright forms exist in each category, including a shorter form that can be filled out if: a) there is only one author; b) the work was not a copyright work for hire; and c) the work is completely new.

1) Copyright Forms for Literary Works

Copyright forms TX or Short TX are the proper copyright forms to protect traditional literary works such as all categories of books, but has also expanded to include computer programs. These copyright forms and the US copyright government office provide free copyright information to authors on how to copyright and protect their works. Free copyright information to authors is essential, for without learning how to copyright authors cannot effectively prevent others from stealing their works. While these copyright forms contain information discussing how to copyright, on-line copyright services provide assistance so cheaply now that they should be researched and considered.

2) Copyright Forms for Serial Works

While the TX copyright forms cover most written works, serial works such as magazines and newspapers are protected with the SE copyright forms.

3) Copyright Forms for Visual Arts

VA Copyright forms are how to copyright visual arts works. Visual arts are pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional works of fine, graphic, and applied art. The following are some examples of visual arts: photographs, cartoons, dolls, murals, games, greeting cards, jewelry designs, original prints and reproductions, and posters.

4) Copyright Forms for Sound Recordings

SR copyright forms are how to copyright sound recordings. Sound recordings are "works that result from the fixation of a series of musical, spoken, or other sounds, but not including the sounds accompanying a motion picture or other audiovisual work." Common examples include recordings of music, drama, or lectures.

5) Copyright Forms for Performing Arts

PA copyright forms are how to copyright performing arts works. Performing arts works are intended to be "performed" directly before an audience or indirectly "by means of any device or process." Included are (1) musical works, including any accompanying words; (2) dramatic works, such as scripts, including any accompanying music; (3) pantomimes and choreographic works; and (4) motion pictures and other audiovisual works.

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Are copyrights transferable?

Yes. Like any other property, all or part of the rights in a work may be transferred by the owner to another. Unfortunately, there are no standard copyright forms put out by the US Copyright Office for such a transfer, but a copyright attorney can easily draft this for you.

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How is copyright protection distinct from trademark and patent protection?

A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, design, or a combination thereof, which identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one company or party from those of another. Famous examples of trademarks include the word "Nike," the phrase "Just do it," and the "Swoosh" logo, which are all trademarks of Nike Corporation.

Getting a trademark registration grants the owner the exclusive right to identify their products with that mark. Please visit www.registeringatrademark.com or view our Trademark FAQ to learn more about getting a trademark and the benefits of a trademark registration.

A patent is a right provided by the government that allows inventors to prevent another from making, selling, or using another invention that is similar in nature. Patents may be used to protect inventions, machines, devices, processes and many other things.

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How long does copyright protection last?

The current term of a copyright for an individual person is for the life of the author/creator plus 70 years after his or her death. For copyright work for hire and most institutional authors, such as companies and universities, the term is 95 years from the first publication or, if not published, 120 years from its creation, whichever occurs first.

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Do I have to renew a copyright?

No for works created after January 1, 1978. Once a copyright is registered, the copyright lasts for the statutory terms described above. There is no renewal option. However, if you later make substantive changes or updates to a prior copyrighted work, such as a new edition or a sequel, then a new copyright registration for that updated work should be filed as the original registration will only cover the original work. Minor changes, such as correcting typographical errors, do not require a subsequent copyright application. Different terms and rules apply to copyrighted works created before January 1, 1978, so check with a qualified copyright attorney when dealing with older works.

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What happens when a copyright registration expires?

The work enters the "public domain." That is, it becomes free and available for anyone to copy or use for any purpose.

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When does a work enter the public domain?

A work of authorship is in the "public domain" if it is no longer under copyright protection or if it failed to meet the requirements for copyright protection. Works in the public domain may be used freely without the permission of the former copyright owner. It is safest to utilize a copyright attorney to determine if a work is truly in the public domain.

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What is copyright work for hire?

In the case of works made for hire, the employer and not the employee is considered to be the author. Section 101 of the copyright law defines a "work made for hire" as:

  • (1) a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment; or
  • (2) if the parties expressly agree in a written instrument signed by them that the work shall be considered a work made for hire....

In addition, works that are not created by employees, but which are commissioned, can qualify as a work for hire. In such a case the commissioner receives the ownership interest in the work rather than the artist.

The US copyright government office (www.copyright.gov) has more information on copyright work for hire in Circular 9. This copyright form should be carefully read, for there are many rules governing copyright work for hire issues. Be aware of these rules, for copyright work for hire determinations are made by looking at the amount of control or authority the employer exercised over the employee or independent contractor. Utilizing a copyright attorney can help in the determination of copyright work for hire issues.

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Is copyright notice required to receive copyright protection?

While the use of a copyright notice is no longer required for copyright protection, it is beneficial to put a copyright notice on all of your materials. Use of the copyright notice takes away the innocent infringement defense, which is where an infringer can argue that they did not realize that the work was protected by copyright.

Additionally, placing your notice on the work warns anyone who sees it that you are claiming ownership it in, thus deterring possible infringers.

The use of the copyright notice is the responsibility of the copyright owner and does not require advance permission from, or registration with, the Copyright Office.

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How is copyright notice properly displayed?

A proper copyright notice can be in any of the following forms: The letter "C" inside a circle, (C), or the word "Copyright" or the abbreviation "Copr.", then the year of first publication, followed by the name of the copyright owner.

An example of proper copyright notice would be, "(C) 2004 Registering A Trademark. All rights reserved." For sound recordings, including CDs and tapes, the notice is exactly the same except that the letter "P," standing for phonorecord, inside a circle (P) would be used.

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In which countries is my copyright respected?

While there is no international copyright protection, your copyrights are generally respected in the more than 100 countries that have signed agreements with the United States.

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What do I do if someone comes up with a highly similar work of authorship to my work?

First, you will want to determine whether this use truly infringes upon your copyright, or instead is protected by the copyright fair use defense mentioned right below. If your copyright attorney reviews the facts and determines that the others use is truly infringing and you have registered your copyright, you may be able to successfully sue the other party for statutory damages up to $150,000.

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What is the copyright fair use defense?

The Copyright Act contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered "fair use," such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Copyright law also sets out four factors to be considered in determining whether or not the user can successfully argue the copyright fair use defense:

1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

2. The nature of the copyrighted work;

3. Amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The distinction between being able to successfully argue the copyright fair use defense and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission. Because of the variability in determining whether a use is acceptable under the copyright fair use defense, consult a copyright attorney to review your facts.

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Who is an author?

Under copyright law, the creator of the original expression in a work is its author. The author is also the owner of copyright unless there is a written agreement by which the author assigns the copyright to another person or entity, such as a publisher. In cases of copyright work for hire, the employer or commissioning party is considered to be the author. Contact a copyright attorney or view the US Copyright Government Office to get free copyright information for authors.

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What is the proper branch of intellectual property law to protect my business name/copyright?

No, trademark law. Many clients first think of the wrong branch of intellectual property to protect their business name/copyright. Do not run this phrase together, business name copyright, instead it is trademark law that will effectively safeguard your business or product name. To learn more about the many benefits of trademark registration, view our Trademark FAQ.

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How do I copyright a name, title, slogan or logo?

You cannot copyright a name, title, slogan, or short phrase. Being unable to copyright a name or slogan does not leave you without protection, for getting a trademark for these items is possible. See Registering A Trademark or Trademark FAQs for more information.

Note that copyright protection may be available for logo artwork that contains sufficient authorship. However, you generally will want the stronger protection offered by a trademark registration.

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Do I have to be a US citizen to register copyrights?

No, you do not.

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What is a derivative work?

A derivative work is a work that is based on, or incorporates, one or more already existing works. Examples of derivative works include multi-media works using preexisting elements, screenplays adapted from books, new musical arrangements, art reproductions or any other work that modifies, is derived from or elaborates upon a preexisting work. To be copyrightable in its own right, a derivative work must contain enough elements of originality to qualify as new work. Further, a copyright holder in a derivative work will only obtain a copyright interest in his original contribution, not the underlying, preexisting elements.

It is extremely important to note that only the copyright owner of the underlying work, or one who has been granted permission to do so, may prepare derivative works. Unauthorized derivative works violate a copyright holder's exclusive rights under the copyright act.

If these copyright FAQ did not address your question, please visit other copyright websites or the US Copyright Government Office at www.copyright.gov.

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