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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 This protection is available to both published and unpublished works.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:
reproduce the work;
Copyrightable works include the following categories:
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."
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.
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.
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
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
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:
registration establishes a public record of the copyright claim.
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.
may be made at any time within the life of the 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:
properly completed application form.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
work enters the "public domain." That is, it becomes free
and available for anyone to copy or use for any purpose.
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
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
you do not.
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.