Copyright laws deal with original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium. These are your ideas once they’ve moved from thoughts in your head to something real that can be bought, sold, and shared with others. You can copyright art, books, music, programming code, choreography, scripts and screenplays, graphics, sculptures, and more. Copyright doesn’t cover ideas themselves, facts, concepts, systems or processes. The main feature of copyright protection is in the name itself: a right to control how your original work is copied. There is a defense called “fair use” in copyright; however, first and foremost, it’s a defense, as well as a balancing of factors not always applicable in situations.
Copyright is often confused for trademark. While creative products may be a part of branding, such as logos and soundbites, copyright is about the creative work itself, and trademark is about a name or design that functions as a source identifier, or brand. This is how a copyrighted work can also function as a trademark and involve both issues.
Registering an original work is not required to obtain copyrights. Your original works are actually automatically copyright when “fixed in a tangible medium” such as an artist making a piece of artwork for a commission client. This does not mean registration is entirely unnecessary, as there are situations where registering your copyrighted work with the United States Copyright Office would be beneficial or even necessary. Registration will allow the copyright owner to record the registration with US Customs to help protect against importation of infringing copies. Registration establishes a public record of the work, and is required before filing for a copyright infringement lawsuit in court. Early registration will establish prima facie evidence of the validity of the copyright if it was made before or within five years of publication, and registration within three months after publication prior to an infringement of a work, statutory damages and attorney’s fees will be available in a lawsuit instead of only actual damages and lost profits. Registration is effective the date the office receives the proper requirements which include a completed registration form from the US Copyright Office, a non-refundable filing fee, and a copy or copies of the work you’re registering.
Registered or not, providing notice of copyright is easy. You often find this notice on creative works and websites in the form of the © copyright symbol and the owner’s name, with or without the copyright’s date, “All Rights Reserved” or other language, for example:
© 2020 Pederzani Law Firm, LLC.
Problems often arise in copyright when you deal with multiple authors for a single work like you find in indie video game projects, business start-ups, and other arrangements with volunteers and “work-for-hire” contractors. Collaborative projects, especially in creative and fan writing, also encounter this issue. If copyrights of a collaborative work are not properly transferred in writing, the original creator, or each co-author for collaborative works, has certain rights and interests in the copyrighted work.
Pederzani Law is experienced in copyright transactions, copyright assignment, and non-litigation copyright enforcement, offering advice and counseling for copyright law, cease and desists, and the DMCA §512 takedown notice process for victims of copyright infringement where applicable. Copyright licensing can be a profitable venture if done correctly, but you need to be aware of how to properly license and protect your creativity.