What is a Copyright?

Copyright law protects original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium, including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and other intellectual works. Protection is available to published and unpublished works and independent of the author’s nationality or domicile. Note that even unpublished works are subject to copyright, a distinction that started after March 1, 1989. That said, you should include a copyright to avoid an infringer claiming he or she was unaware of the copyright.

Copyrights govern the work that has been created and not the medium itself. For example, if you’ve written a novel, the written text is eligible for copyright protection, not the paper. If you’ve designed a new Hawaiian shirt style, the palm trees and pineapples pattern are subject to copyright law, but not the fabric.

What does Copyright Law protect?

Copyright protection extends to the following works:

  • Literature
  • Poetry
  • Paintings
  • Sculpture
  • Databases
  • Maps
  • Advertisements
  • Computer software
  • Architecture
  • Music
  • Audiovisual works
  • Pantomimes and choreographic works
  • Dramatic productions and associated music
  • Original authorship on a website

It’s important to note that copyright protection isn’t as “absolute” as the coverage provided by other forms of intellectual property law. The copyright prohibits others from copying the work but does not prevent others from independently creating that work. If the creator of an original work believes another has reproduced his work without permission, called infringement, then the creator should register his copyright.

Like patents and trademarks, the federal government provides the creator of original work with copyright protection. The U.S. Copyright Office grants that protection vs. the PTO. Unlike patents and trademarks, certain rights come with the creation of an original work. Those rights apply even without applying to the federal government for registration.

When you obtain copyright protection, you then have the right to reproduce it, prepare derivative works based on it, distribute it, perform it publicly, and display them publicly. Most important, you can authorize or restrict others from using the material. In the growing field of Internet copyright law, it pays to hire a copyright lawyer near you familiar with the peculiarities of Internet copy, images, and sounds.

A copyright lawyer can help with the copyright registration process, which helps prove authorship, puts the public on notice of the copyrighted materials and the identity of the work’s creator, and provides the potential for additional damages should a copyright infringement lawsuit proceed.

Content Not Protected by Copyright Law

Some examples of unprotected content include:

  • Ideas
  • Methods
  • Concepts
  • Discoveries
  • Works without a tangible form
  • Titles, names, or slogans
  • Familiar symbols or designs
  • Typeface variations
  • Ingredient’s lists

Only original, creative works in a physical form apply to copyright laws.

What Does a Valid Copyright Include?

It’s best to register a copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. A copyright lawyer can assist you with the process if you’re unsure how to proceed.

A valid copyright notice should include the following elements:

  1. The word copyright
  2. The symbol ©
  3. The publication date
  4. The name of the author or copyright owner

For example, Disney includes © 1986-2020 DISNEY/PIXAR at the bottom of its website.

You can gain greater clarification of your rights by including all rights reserved, some rights reserved, or no rights reserved.

Can Copyrighted Work Be Used without Permission?

Because their copyright has expired, public domain works are not subject to copyright law. Public domain works are subject to rules:

All work published works in the U.S. before 1924 are considered public domain.

Works published after 1923 but before 1978 are protected by copyright laws for 95 years from the publication’s date.

Works published after 1977 are subject to copyright for the author’s lifetime plus another 70 years. If the work was for hire, anonymous, or under a pseudonym, the copyright lasts between 95 and 120 years, based on the publication date.

For works published between 1924 and 1963, you should check with the U.S. Copyright Office for copyright renewal.

In most instances, it’s best to assume all works are protected by copyright law unless you can establish they are not. The only exception is for works created under the “fair use rule.”

This rule recognizes that society can benefit from the unauthorized use of copyright materials when the purpose serves a scholarship, education, or public. In short, if you are using a portion of someone’s work in a non-competitive way for the express purpose of benefiting the public, you’re use is exempt from copyright law.

Our Copyright Lawyers Can Help

If you think your work is subject to a copyright violation, talk with a copyright lawyer near you to safeguard your material. You can also enlist the support of a copyright lawyer to make sure you file your copyright correctly.

Our lawyers are versed in all forms of intellectual property law. When you need an attorney near you for any legal service, give us a call. We support clients throughout Bucks and Montgomery Counties with everything from copyright law to personal injury.

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