Copyright Law

A copyright is granted under United States law to those who author “original works of authorship”.  A copyright occurs the moment something is created – it is automatic.  However, a registered copyright is the formal registration of a specific piece of work with the copyright office.  A registered copyright is useful is pursuing people who seek to make unauthorized copies of the copyrighted work.

What Does A Copyright Cover?

A copyright is an “original works of authorship” that includes writing, theatrical creations, musical creations, artistic creation and other specified intellectual works.

What Is Not Covered By Copyright?

Copyright does not cover work that is not eligible for federal copyright protection as defined by the US Copyright Offices.  Non-covered works include:

  • Works that have not been documented or “fixed in a tangible form”;
  • Titles, names, short phrases and slogans, familiar symbols or designs;
  • “Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries or devices, as distinguished from a description, explanation or illustration”;
  • Works that are wholly comprised of information that is deemed common property without any original authorship.

Who Owns The Copyright?

Ownership of a copyright depends on who created the work and the capacity under which the work was created.  If an individual created the work on their own, the individual owns the copyright.  If the individual created the work within the scope of an their established function as an employee within a business, copyright law determines that the employer is the owner/creator of the work; thus, the employer would own the copyright.

What Is A 'Work Made For Hire'?

‘Work Made for Hire’ refers to cases where the employer, not the employee, is considered to be the author and/or owner of the copyright to the material.  The US Copyright Offices establishes ‘Work Made for Hire’ as:

  • Work created by an employee within the scope of their work;
  • Work specifically commissioned or ordered for use as:
    • A contribution to a collection of work;
    • Part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work;
    • Translation;
    • Supplementary work;
    • Compilations;
    • Instructional texts;
    • Tests;
    • Answer materials for tests;
    • An atlas.

How To Apply For A Copyright

A copyright occurs the moment something is created – it is automatic.  A copyright exists from the moment the work is actually created – i.e., when others can actually see the work, it is deemed created.  While such copyrights occur automatically, there are benefits to the author of registering a copyright with the US Copyright Office that allow the author greater protection over their intellectual property.

How Are Copyrights Enforced

If registered with the US Copyright Office, there are multiple enforcement advantages available to protect the interests of registered copyrights:

  • There is a public record of the copyright as a result of registration;
  • Infringement suits may be filed after a copyright is registered;
  • If within 5 years of publication, registration of a copyright automatically establishes preliminary evidence of the validity of a copyright and of the facts within the copyright certificate;
  • If within 3 months of publication, registration of a copyright automatically establishes attorney’s fees and court costs for the owner of the copyright.

Fair Use Policy

The Fair Use Policy is outline in § 107 of the 1976 Copyright Act, and allows for the limited use of certain copyrighted material without first obtaining permission from the owner of the copyright.  The Fair Use Policy allows such use for things like scholarly works or academic articles.  Copyrighted work can be quoted for the purpose of criticizing it or commenting on it, or for use as a teaching tool in a classroom setting. 

Copyright Licenses

In order to create an exclusive copyright license, the U.S. Copyright Act requires that such a transfer of ownership be memorialized in writing and signed by the copyright owner.  To create an effective exclusive license, the document must specifically indentify the work involved and lay out the rights being given with the license.  If the license is giving non-exclusive rights, it need not be in writing and can instead be oral or even implied based on the conduct of the parties (i.e. the parties acted as though they intended a copyright license to pass between them).

When Do Copyrights Expire?

Generally speaking, a copyright is enforced from the moment of its creation lasting for the entire lifetime of the creator, and expires 70 years after the author dies.  For works with multiple authors, the copyright lasts from the time the work was created and expires 70 years after the last author dies.

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