Copyright is a powerful legal concept that protects creators and their works from reproduction, monetization, or other infringement by unauthorized parties. While certain limitations like educational use and parody do exist, copyright is one of the broadest and strongest legal concepts in the United States. The author and their creation are automatically protected from the moment the new work is created. However, it is best to register your work with the United States Copyright Office. This will ensure that there will be a record of the work’s existence and its copyrighted status.
To truly appreciate copyright laws, and to effectively use them to protect yourself and your life’s work, it is best to gain an understanding of how and why they work.
Many types of creative works can be protected by copyright. Some of these include:
To better understand how and why copyright works to protect creative projects, it can be useful to compare it to other forms of legal intellectual property protection. Two examples of such concepts would be trademarks and patents.
A trademark is a similar concept, but it protects different types of creative elements, such as names and logos. As an example, the latest movie in your favorite superhero series is a copyrighted work, with the corporate studio likely holding the copyright. This copyright only protects the movie itself, however. The superhero’s name (and probably the name of the series) would be trademarked rather than copyrighted. Those trademarks might be held by entirely different parties than the film’s copyright. This is especially true in the case of superhero movies and the long histories of their blockbuster intellectual properties.
A patent is another similar concept, but rather than protecting an artistic work, a patent protects an invention or concept. While an iconic car design can be copyrighted, and a famous car brand’s logo can be trademarked, a blueprint for an entirely new type of car would be patented.
Both trademarks and patents are also registered with a different government agency, which is the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Unlike many other legal tools, copyright protection goes into effect the moment a work is created in a “fixed and tangible” form. Digital projects do qualify as fixed and tangible, so long as they meet certain criteria. Fixed and tangible do not always imply physical media. However, hard copies are often useful when registering copyright officially.
Although copyright protection is automatic and universal for all artistic works created in the United States, it will still be in your best interests to officially register your work with the United States Copyright Office. Although registration is completely voluntary, official registration with the government’s copyright authority will give you the maximum protection against infringement and misuse.
The idea that copyright can be established by mailing yourself a dated physical copy of your own work is an urban legend. These methods have no legal basis. Such practices will not be able to improve your position in an actual legal dispute over copyright ownership.
It is worth the investment to hire a lawyer and properly register your major artistic works for a number of reasons:
If your work is officially registered within five years of the work’s publication, it can be used as prima facie evidence in a court of law. This means that your copyright will be considered a self-evident legal fact.
A: The idea of copyright protection is actually rooted in the United States Constitution, and formal copyright laws in America go back nearly to the founding of the country, having first been enacted in May of 1790. There are no special criteria to validate a copyright—in theory, you are legally protected from the moment your work is created. In practice, registering your work with the United States Copyright Office will help your copyright stand up in court.
A: To be eligible for copyright, a work must meet certain criteria. The work must be original, have artistic value, and be in a fixed and tangible form. A qualified intellectual property lawyer can help you understand the exact legal definition for each of these criteria. Understanding what is meant by “fixed and tangible” can be especially problematic in an era where so much art and media is distributed in an entirely digital form.
A: There are certain exceptions and limitations to copyright. The idea of “fair use” means that copyright can be ignored when using a copyrighted work for certain purposes. These include:
Some of these can be very subjective, so it is important to consult with a legal expert if you have any questions about whether your use of copyrighted material constitutes fair use. Copyright protection is additionally subject to time limits.
A: The best way to ensure that you can prove your copyright in a court of law when needed is to register it officially with the United States Copyright Office. By doing so within 5 years of your work’s publication, your registration can be used as prima facie evidence in a court of law.
If you are having trouble understanding whether a particular work is protected by copyright—or how far those protections extend—the experienced copyright experts at Four Reasons Legal in Denver are standing by to help. Contact us today and let us take on your complex copyright issues.