At some point, intellectual property is an important realm to anyone conducting business. Whether it is related to a business name and/or logo, an invention, or “original work” created. In particular, it is a wise decision for every business owner, entrepreneur, or artist whose name, invention, and/or original work is put in front of the public eye to secure copyrights for their original works.
So what exactly is a copyright?
A copyright is a form of legal protection designed to protect an author’s “original works”,
Copyright protection is available for both published and unpublished “original works.” That have been written or otherwise recorded or documented. Works that can be copyrighted include:
- Literary works- work not meant for performance such as books, articles, blogs, poetry, catalogs, compilations of info, computer databases, advertisements, etc.)
- Dramatic works- scripted screenplays or plays, including the accompanying music
- Sound recordings- can include both the sound recording and the accompanying recorded literary, musical, or dramatic work(s).
- Pictures, graphics, maps, and sculptures
- Musical works, including lyrics
- Films, television shows, video games, and videos
- Pantomimes and choreographic (dance, stunt, other performance routines)
- Architectural plans, drawings and actual building designs and
- Many other works that require one’s intellectual creativity
Holding a copyright gives you the exclusive right to use and reproduce the work you create and the ability to prevent others from using your work without your consent; it becomes your property. Works that are not protected by copyright may be used by anyone without the author’s permission.
What if you have created an original work, but you have not taken any steps to protect it?
The good news is: Copyright registration is not necessary to secure copyright. In fact, copyright is automatically secured as soon as you create, document, and/or otherwise record your work. If you work on a project over a period of time (for example, if it takes you three years to write a book or 2 weeks to write a song), as the progress is made on that project, the work that is created becomes copyrighted even before the final project is complete. So, if you have not registered your copyright, you have some security in knowing that you are somewhat protected.
The bad news is:
If someone infringes upon your work (copies, reproduces, or uses your work without your permission) and you have not registered your copyright, resolution of the situation becomes more complicated and in some cases, impossible.
To prove copyright infringement, you must prove that you owned the copyright to the work and that the work was copied and/or used without your permission. A lot of times, the infringing party may claim that their work is original and that had no knowledge of your work and therefore could not copy it. Registration of your copyright will establish a public record of your copyright. This record puts the public on notice that you own the copyright to your creative work, are serious about protecting your creative work, and lessens the chance that it will be unashamedly copied and used without your permission. Additionally, your copyright must be registered in order for you to seek legal remedies in court against someone who is infringing upon your work and if timely registered can establish sufficient evidence that your copyright is valid, may entitle you an additional awards for damages and/or payment of your attorney’s fees; obviously, although registration isn’t required, there are numerous benefits to registering. It’s better to choose to be proactive than to have no choice, but to be reactive.
So, what happens if you are hired to create something that is copyrightable?
Although the author or creator of an original work usually holds the copyright, if someone hires you specifically for a creative project or if you create a work for your employer that is within the scope of your employment, your employer or the person that hires you for the project is considered to be the author or creator. Consequently, this means that the employer or person that hires you to create that work may own the copyright to any work you create for them, not you!
Limits on Copyright Protection:
Although copyright protection prevents others from using your original work without your consent, there are limitations on this protection:
• Non-copyrightable items- not all creative items are copyrightable. Things such as titles, common facts, ideas, names, etc. are not copyrightable and therefore not afforded the protections of a copyright.
• Fair Use- The doctrine of fair use allows others to use portions of your work, even if copyrighted, for the purpose of news, commentary, reviews or criticism, parody, research etc.
• Some works are in the public domain and may be used by anyone. This includes works with expired copyrights.
Transfer of Copyright:
Copyright owners have the right to transfer their copyright to someone else. Copyrights can be passed through one’s will, trust, or through intestate succession upon the death of the copyright holder. To transfer a copyright on a non-exclusive basis, no written agreement is required. However, in order to transfer exclusive copyright, the transfer must be in writing and signed by the copyright owner or their duly authorized agent.