What is a copyright?
How does a copyright differ from a trademark?
Types of creative work protected by copyright.
How long does a copyright last?
Valid copyright notice.
How to secure a copyright.
Copyright registration procedures.
Search of Copyright Office Records.
Disclaimer: All information re copyrights and trademarks on our website has been obtained from a combination of these sources:
1) The official website of the United States Patent & Trademark Office, http://www.uspto.gov.
2) The official website of the United States Copyright Office, Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/copyright
3) Nolo Press - “Plain English Law Centers” at http://www.nolo.com
The information included in our website is meant to give a quick overview, definition, and basic explanation only. Please go to the above sites if you need more in-depth information concerning copyrights or trademarks.
What is a copyright? (Top of Page)
Copyright is a form of protection provided to the authors of “original works of authorship” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works, both published and unpublished. The 1976 Copyright Act generally gives the owner of copyright the exclusive right to reproduce the copyrighted work, to prepare derivative works, to distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work, to perform the copyrighted work publicly, or to display the copyrighted work publicly. Copyrights are registered by the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress.
How does a copyright differ from a trademark? (Top of Page)
Many people confuse copyrights and patents as there are similarities among these intellectual property protection although they serve different purposes. Copyright protects original works of expression, such as novels, fine and graphic arts, music, phonorecords, photography, software, video, cinema and choreography by preventing people from copying or commercially exploiting them without the copyright owner’s permission. But the copyright laws specifically do not protect names, titles or short phrases. That’s where trademark law comes in. Trademark protects distinctive words, phrases, logos, symbols, slogans and any other devices used to identify and distinguish products or services in the marketplace.
There are, however, areas where both trademark and copyright law may be used to protect different aspects of the same product. For example, copyright laws may protect the artistic aspects of a graphic or logo used by a business to identify its goods or services, while trademark may protect the graphic or logo from use by others in a confusing manner in the marketplace. Similarly, trademark laws are often used in conjunction with copyright laws to protect advertising copy. The trademark laws protect the product or service name and any slogans used in the advertising, while the copyright laws protect the additional creative written expression contained in the ad.
Types of creative work protected by copyright. (Top of Page)
Copyright protects works such as poetry, movies, CD-ROMs, video games, videos, plays, paintings, sheet music, recorded music performances, novels, software code, sculptures, photographs, choreography and architectural designs.
To qualify for copyright protection, a work must be “fixed in a tangible medium of expression.” This means that the work must exist in some physical form for at least some period of time, no matter how brief. Virtually any form of expression will qualify as a tangible medium, including a computer’s random access memory (RAM), the recording media that capture all radio and television broadcasts, and the scribbled notes on the back of an envelope that contain the basis for an impromptu speech.
In addition, the work must be original that is, independently created by the author. It doesn’t matter if an author’s creation is similar to existing works, or even if it is arguably lacking in quality, ingenuity or aesthetic merit. So long as the author toils without copying from someone else, the results are protected by copyright.
Finally, to receive copyright protection, a work must be the result of at least some creative effort on the part of its author. There is no hard and fast rule as to how much creativity is enough. As one example, a work must be more creative than a telephone book’s white pages, which involve a straightforward alphabetical listing of telephone numbers rather than a creative selection of listings.
How long does a copyright last? (Top of Page)
For works published after 1977, the copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years. However, if the work is a work for hire (that is, the work is done in the course of employment or has been specifically commissioned) or is published anonymously or under a pseudonym, the copyright lasts between 95 and 120 years, depending on the date the work is published.
All works published in the United States before 1923 are in the public domain. Works published after 1922, but before 1978 are protected for 95 years from the date of publication. If the work was created, but not published, before 1978, the copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years. However, even if the author died over 70 years ago, the copyright in an unpublished work lasts until December 31, 2002. And if such a work is published before December 31, 2002, the copyright will last until December 31, 2047.
Valid copyright notice. (Top of Page)
A copyright notice should contain:
- the word “copyright”
- a “c” in a circle (©)
- the date of publication, and
- the name of either the author or the owner of all the copyright rights in the published work.
For example, the correct copyright for the fourth edition of The Copyright Handbook, by Stephen Fishman (Nolo) is Copyright © 1998 by Stephen Fishman.
How to secure a copyright. (Top of Page)
The way in which copyright protection is secured is frequently misunderstood. No publication or registration or other action in the Copyright Office is required to secure copyright. There are, however, certain definite advantages to registration.
Copyright is secured automatically when the work is created, and a work is “created” when it is fixed in a copy or phonorecord for the first time. “Copies” are material objects from which a work can be read or visually perceived either directly or with the aid of a machine or device, such as books, manuscripts, sheet music, film, videotape, or microfilm. “Phonorecords” are material objects embodying fixations of sounds (excluding, by statutory definition, motion picture soundtracks), such as cassette tapes, CDs, or LPs. Thus, for example, a song (the “work”) can be fixed in sheet music (“copies”) or in phonograph disks (“phonorecords”), or both.
Copyright registration procedures. (Top of Page)
In general, copyright registration is a legal formality intended to make a public record of the basic facts of a particular copyright. However, registration is not a condition of copyright protection. Even though registration is not a requirement for protection, the copyright law provides several inducements or advantages to encourage copyright owners to make registration.
To register a work, send the following three elements in the same envelope or package to:
Library of Congress
101 Independence Avenue, S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20559-6000
1) A properly completed application form.
2) A non-refundable filing fee of $30 for each application. (Please note - this fee is subject to change so check with the Copyright Office website to be sure this fee schedule is current)
3) A nonreturnable deposit of the work being registered.
Application forms. (Top of Page)
All Copyright Application Forms can be found on the U.S. Copyright Office’s website at http://www.loc.gov/copyright/circs/circ1.html#af.
You must have Adobe Acrobat Reader ® installed on your computer to view and print the forms accessed on the Internet. Adobe Acrobat Reader may be downloaded free from Adobe Systems Incorporated through links from the same Internet site from which the forms are available.
Also, all Copyright Office forms are available on the Copyright Office Website in fill-in version. Go to www.loc.gov/copyright/forms/ and follow the instructions. The fill-in forms allow you to enter information while the form is displayed on the screen by an Adobe Acrobat Reader product. You may then print the completed form and mail it to the Copyright Office. Fill-in forms provide a clean, sharp printout for your records and for filing with the Copyright Office.
Search of Copyright Office Records. (Top of Page)
The records of the Copyright Office are open for inspection and searching by the public. Moreover, on request, the Copyright Office will search its records for you at the statutory hourly rate of $65 for each hour or fraction of an hour. For information on searching the Office records concerning the copyright status or ownership of a work, request Circular 22, “How to Investigate the Copyright Status of a Work,” and Circular 23, “The Copyright Card Catalog and the Online Files of the Copyright Office.”
Copyright Office records in machine-readable form cataloged from January 1, 1978, to the present, including registration and renewal information and recorded documents, are now available for searching on the Internet. These files may be examined through LOCIS (Library of Congress Information System). You may connect to LOCIS through the World Wide Web at www.loc.gov/copyright/rb.html.
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