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Information About Copyright Law

Copyrights are exclusive rights granted to creators of original works of art or broadcasts that prohibit others from copying, reproducing, distributing, or selling the material.

An important concept behind copyright is that the creative expressions of the work, and not the ideas behind the expressions, are protected. For example, one cannot publish a comic strip that centers around an orange tabby cat that struggles with human problems; this would violate the copyrights of Garfield. However, one can use the idea of a comic strip that is centered around a cat and has adequately different themes. The purpose behind this is that while copyright laws are intended to protect original creators, they are also intended to encourage creativity and prevent original creators from controlling an idea.

How to Obtain a Copyright

There isn’t a specific registration required for obtaining a copyright in the United States. Contrary to popular belief, copyright is obtained automatically when a work is “created,” or put into physical form (such as written into a book or recorded onto a CD). However, a copyright that is registered with the federal government has certain advantages. First, a copyright must be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office in order to bring an infringement lawsuit to court. Furthermore, by registering a copyright before an infringement takes place, the creator, in addition to receiving damages and lost profits, can receive statutory damages and attorney’s fees. Lastly, a registered copyright in court will serve as prima facie, or established and valid, evidence.

To register for a copyright, an application form, fee, and two copies of the works must be sent to the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.

A copyright is noted by the symbol ©.

Copyright Infringement & Remedies

Copyright infringement can occur when a copyrighted work is copied, reproduced, distributed, or sold without the consent of the original copyright holder. Copyright infringement can also occur when an original work is built upon to make a new work. The new work is referred to as a derivative work.

When infringement occurs, the copyright holder can file a lawsuit against the infringer and seek compensation for damages and loss of profits. If the copyright was registered prior to the infringement, the suit holder can also sue for statutory damages and attorney’s fees. When won, an injunction will normally be issued against the infringer to prevent them from infringing again in the future.

Copyright infringement cases can be complicated for various reasons. Often times the defendant will claim they used the original work as “inspiration,” and didn’t actually copy it, so the distinction between inspiration and infringement can be difficult to determine. Furthermore, even if a work is copyrighted, it may not actually be entitled to copyright protection for various reasons.

Copyright Transferring, Licensing, & Termination.

Copyrights can be fully or partially transferred. In order for copyrights to be transferred, a signed contract of the transfer must be in writing. Copyrights can also be passed down through a will.

Copyrights can also be licensed. When they are licensed, a licensee will pay a fee, known as a royalty, to the original copyright holder, and gain the rights to reproduce and distribute the material, or what is otherwise stated in the license agreement. This agreement can include certain terms of the license, such as where, when, and how long the licensee can distribute the material. A license can be exclusive or non-exclusive; if a license is exclusive, only the licensee has the rights to do what is stated in the license agreement.

Currently, a copyright is effective until after 70 years from the date of the copyright holder’s death. This is effective for all works created after 1977.

Hiring a Copyright Attorney

Protecting your original work of art is important if you want to generate money from your work. A copyright attorney can ensure that your rights are protected and that other parties do not benefit from your work without your consent. Copyright attorneys can also help you seek compensation form or an injunction against another party who is infringing on your copyright.