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Quick guide to copyrights

Posted by Shivali Anand

August 11, 2021    |     3-minute read (560 words)

A copyright is one of four categories of intellectual property, each of which has vital importance to business owners and entrepreneurs.  The copyright is the only form of IP that confers its owners an exclusive right to produce copies of a creative work, which may be in an artistic, literary, musical or educational form. 

Why does this matter? Because as the owner of a copyright, you control how and when your creative work can be copied and disseminated, and it keeps others who don’t have permission from appropriating your work. Any original or creative work can be copyrighted if it can be saved in some permanent (tangible) way to be later communicated to someone else.

Original works of authorship such as literature, theater, music, poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software and architecture are covered by copyright, whether unpublished or published. 

On the other hand, copyright does not protect facts, individual words, short phrases or slogans, ideas, operating procedures, symbols or designs, although a copyright may protect how such things are communicated.

Your creative work is copyrighted from its inception

From the moment your work is created and fixed in a tangible form, it falls under copyright protection. It does not have to be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. 

While registration is voluntary, it does provide important legal protection. You will have to register in the event you consider bringing a lawsuit for infringement of your work. Many people choose to register their works because they seek to have the facts of their copyright on the public record and attain a certificate of registration. 

Copyright versus trademark

A source of confusion for many people is the distinction between a copyright and a trademark. As previously stated, a copyright protects original work and is generated automatically upon the work’s creation. In contrast, a trademark protects items that distinguish or identify a particular business from another, and the trademark is established through common use of a mark in the course of business. 

Copyright protections extend beyond U.S. borders

Registering your copyright with the federal government ensures that your IP is protected in many nations outside the U.S. The federal government has copyright agreements in place with several countries stating that governments will respect the intellectual property of one another’s citizens. Note that in the U.S., the sign for copyright is ©.

How to register a copyright

 To register a copyright, send the following documents to the U.S. Copyright Office: 
  1. Submit the application fee, which at the time of publication starts at $65 for a single author and claimant filing electronically. View the fee schedule here.
  2. Submit a completed application form. Note, you must select the form that corresponds with the type of work you are registering. The five types of forms are: literary, visual, single serials, performing arts and sound recording. 
  3. Submit copies of the work you're registering. 

After registration

According to Chapter X of the Copyright Act of 1957, once the work is approved by the Registrar of Copyrights and marked with the Copyright Office's seal, it is admissible as prima facie proof in all courts without further evidence or production of the original.

Copyright protections expire after the author's lifetime plus 70 years, according to the Copyright Act of 1976. Depending on the nature of authorship, this may be 95 or 120 years.

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