general copyright questions
What is a copyright?
Copyright is a form of intellectual property protection, which gives creators of “original works of authorship” exclusive rights to copy, change, rework, sell, otherwise transfer, distribute, perform, and display their original works .
Under the US Copyright law “original works of authorship” include:
Written works (websites, books, blog posts, social media posts, webinar presentations, worksheets, etc.)
Works of art (photographs, graphics, paintings, drawings, sketches, etc.)
under the US Copyright law.
Sound Recordings (compositions, songs, podcasts, etc.)
Video Recordings (movies, videos, webinars, vlogs, etc.)
Computer software and applications (programs and apps)
What's the difference between a copyright and a trademark?
A trademark is any word, short phrase, symbol, design, and/or element of design that identifies your brand and differentiates your goods or services from somebody else’s.
A copyright on the other hand protects your original creative works - your artwork, graphics, photographs, videos, apps, websites, all kinds of written works (think: ebooks, worksheets and workbooks, blogs, IG captions, etc.).
There can be some cross-over though, for example – “Harry Potter” is protected by both copyright and trademark. The books, movies, and drawings are covered by copyright, while the right to use the “Harry Potter” name or logo is covered by trademark.
When do I own the copyright to something?
Under the US Copyright Act, copyright protection automatically attaches as soon as a work is “fixed in [a] tangible medium of expression”. In other words, your ideas are not protected, but if you express them in some physical way, shape, or form (think: putting pen to paper) then they qualify for copyright protection.
However, sometimes even if you create something, you won’t own the copyright to it. For example, if someone else was involved, they too may have copyright rights in the work. Additionally, if you were hired by someone to create the work, then in certain situations that person or company that hired you may be the rightful copyright owner.
What does the © mean?
The © mark stands for copyright. You don’t actually need to use it, but it happens to be a very helpful way to put people on notice that you are the rightful owner of that work and that it cannot be used without your express permission.
If you’re serious about protecting your rights and want to let others know, it is recommended that you use the © symbol on all your creative works as follows: © <year> <author’s name>. All rights reserved.
copyright registration questions
Is registration with the copyright office required?
Nope, as soon as your creative works are put out into the world you automatically own the copyright to those creations.
But registration does extend your copyright rights beyond those that are automatically offered, and some of those rights can be invaluable.
What benefits does copyright registration provide?
A registered copyright pre-emptively keeps infringers at bay because:
It tells the world that you are the owner of the copyright, which in turn makes your infringers “oops, I didn’t know” argument totally moot.
If someone wants to use your work, they can find out how to reach you in the Copyright Public Catalog.
A registered copyright boosts your profits and credibility because:
It gives you the exclusive right to copy your work, edit it, make other original works based on it, share it, publicly display or perform it, and commercially exploit it – the registration backs that up.
It makes it easier for you to license your creative works to others (and get paid for it!).
In some industries (like film), nobody will take you seriously unless your work is copyrighted.
A registered copyright is necessary if you intend to enforce your rights because:
If you register your copyright within 5 years of the date that it was first published, it creates a legal presumption that you are the owner of the mark and that the mark is valid, which could offer a big advantage in court.
It creates a basis for a federal copyright infringement lawsuit in federal court, which potentially provides for significantly higher monetary damages and reimbursement of legal fees.
It makes it possible to take down infringing content online and in social media.
Do I need to register all my creative works?
Not necessarily. As an entrepreneur, you no doubt create a lot of original creative works for your business. All those works take time, energy, and resources to create, and for that reason alone, those works are valuable.
But still, all those works may not necessarily need to be registered. You automatically own the copyright to a work as soon as you’ve created it, and registration merely extends the ability to better monetize and enforce the rights that are already automatically granted to you.
Of course, when it comes to your most significant works – the ones that are the most valuable to your current or future business interests, registration is critical.
Can I register all my works together or do I need a separate application for each one?
It depends. The Copyright Office allows for group registrations of the following:
Most works that haven’t yet been published (for copyright purposes a work is deemed “published” when it’s been distributed to the public for sale)
Short online literary works, including poems, short stories, articles, essays, columns, blogs, social media posts, emails, etc.
As for everything else, the rule is one application, filing fee, and deposit per work.
Can I register a copyright myself?
You sure can. A copyright can be registered with the US Copyright Office by filling out an application, submitting a deposit, and paying the appropriate fee.
Does the work need to be finished before I register the copyright?
Most of the time, yes. However, in certain circumstances, where works have had a history of pre-release infringement (think movies or record albums), you can pre-register a copyright. Pre-registration is not a replacement for actual registration, it just notifies the Copyright Office of your intent to register once the work is complete.
How long does a copyright last?
In general, copyright protection lasts for the entire life of the author plus an additional 70 years.
For works that were made for hire, anonymous works, or works created under a pseudonym, the copyright lasts for 95 years from the first date of publication or for 120 years from the year it was created, whichever term is shorter.
Does the US copyright office monitor my copyright for infringement?
No. You are solely responsible for monitoring your works for infringement.
Does the US copyright office enforce my copyright rights?
No. Registering your works give you additional tools and benefits when it comes to enforcing your copyright rights, but enforcement is entirely your responsibility.