WHAT IS A COPYRIGHT?
Copyright is a form of intellectual property protection, which is granted to “original works of authorship” under the US Copyright law.
“Original works of authorship”, simply known as your original expressive works can include any:
Written work (websites, books, blog posts, social media posts, webinar presentations, worksheets, etc.)
Work of art (photograph, graphic, painting, drawing, sketch, etc.)
Dramatic work (plays, screenplays, scripts, etc.)
Music (compositions and sound recordings)
Mideo (movies, webinars, etc.)
Computer software and applications (programs and apps)
Before any of these works can be protected by copyright, they must be “fixed in [a] tangible medium of expression”. In other words, your ideas are not protected until they are expressed in some physical way, shape, or form. So literally, until you put pen to paper.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A TRADEMARK AND A COPYRIGHT?
A trademark protects names, logos, slogans, designs, design elements (like color or packaging), or any other combination of short phrases, which would identify the source of goods and services of one person or business from another, while copyright protects original expressive works like art, music, video, writing, 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.
I WROTE A BLOG / TOOK A PHOTO / CREATED A GRAPHIC / PUBLISHED MY WEBSITE / RECORDED A SONG / ETC. - DO I OWN THE COPYRIGHT NOW?
Maybe, maybe not.
If you created something, you usually own the copyright to it.
However, 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, that person or company that hired you may be the rightful copyright owner.
WHAT DOES THE © MARK 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:
IS REGISTRATION WITH THE COPYRIGHT OFFICE LEGALLY REQUIRED?
No. 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.
So, to ensure that these your most significant works are completely protected and working to your advantage, they should be registered with the US Copyright Office.
WHAT BENEFITS DOES COPYRIGHT REGISTRATION PROVIDE?
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.
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.
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.
DO I NEED TO REGISTER ALL OF 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, regardless, all those works may not necessarily need to be registered.
You automatically own the copyright to these works as soon as they are created, and registration merely extends the bundle of 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, the importance of these additional rights cannot be overstated.
And, of course, if you have the funds, it never hurts to copyright everything.
CAN I REGISTER A COPYRIGHT MYSELF?
You sure can. A copyright is registered by paying the appropriate fees and filing the correct application with the US Copyright Office.
There are also countless DIY legal websites that claim to let you register your copyright at bargain-basement prices.
A lot has been said about the perils of using these websites, but we’re not here to dissuade you from taking this on yourself. We’re here to give you the facts.
The truth is, the copyright application process is much more nuanced than just filling out an application.
The application process is a LEGAL process, which is often complicated and requires:
- Knowledge of the law;
- Knowledge of the US Copyright Office;
- Knowledge of the application process;
- Attention to detail;
- Thoroughness; and
- The ability to follow strict guidelines and deadlines.
So, you can of course attempt to do this on your own, but you’re far more likely to have your copyright registered quickly and correctly if you use an experienced attorney than if you tried to do it yourself.
DO I NEED TO BE USING THE WORK BEFORE I CAN REGISTER IT?
No. 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 MY COPYRIGHT LAST?
It depends. 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 WORK 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 benefits when it comes to enforcing your copyright acts, but enforcement is entirely your responsibility.