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Copyright 101

What is Copyright?

A copyright is a form of intellectual property, which protects an author’s original work. The dictionary says it is “the legal right to be the only one to reproduce, publish, and sell a book, musical recording, etc..” According to the United States Copyright Office, “An author’s work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.”

What are some works that are protected under Copyright Law?

Copyright law covers all original creative works that have a tangible form, such as:

  • Written works (ex. books or poems, etc. on paper or saved as computer files)
  • Musical works, including both notes and words, as recorded on paper or in digital form
  • Dramatic and/or choreographed works, such as plays and dance routines
  • Physical artwork like paintings and sculptures
  • Architecture
  • Computer programs
  • Original website content, including text, images and video

What are some works that are not protected under Copyright Law

You are not able to copyright the idea you used to create your work, only the specific way you have expressed that idea. That is why your creation must have a tangible form. Additional works that cannot be copyrighted include:

  • Simple lists of facts or common information, such as,
    • Ingredients in a recipe
    • Important dates.
  • Titles or short phrases such as,
    • Domain names

So, what are your protected rights under Copyright Law?

Once you create your work in a tangible form, copyright law gives you the right to:

*It’s always a good idea to include a copyright notice on your work to remind others that you hold copyright to it.

Should you register your copyright?

Registering your copyright is recommended for a number of reasons, but mostly because registering it will  provide additional protection of these rights.  Registering before any infringement occurs can make it easier to recover damages. If you register after infringement occurs, you can only collect damages from the date of registration and going forward.

What comes from the registration?

  • A public record of your ownership of the work and a certificate of registration
  • The ability to file a lawsuit against people who use your work without permission
  • Eligibility for statutory damages and attorney’s fees, if you win your case

How to Register Copyright

You may register both published and unpublished works, as long as they qualify for copyright protection. You may submit your application, including the appropriate fee and a copy of the work for deposit, either online, using the Copyright Office’s eCO online system, or by mail. An electronic copy is acceptable for most types of deposits. The Library of Congress requires hard-copy deposits of other works. For those, you may include an electronic copy with an electronic application, but you will also need to send the “best edition” of your work by mail.

These records are made public and can be accessible online, meaning you cannot delete yours once you create it. If you don’t want to use your real name in your application, you don’t have to, but be sure you check “Pseudonymous” on your application.

Copyright Protection in Other Countries

There is no form for international copyright.  The United States does have an agreement with some countries agreeing to honor the copyrights of each others’ citizens but it does not extend into every country. The United States Copyright Office offers a list of countries and their copyright relations with the  United States, which you can read here.

This article is meant to provide general legal information about copyright law and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and  always changing. If you are in need of  legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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