Introduction To Copyright

In the United States, copyright law protects creators from having their works stolen or used without their permission. In the event that a work registered with the U.S. Copyright Office is stolen or infringed upon, the creator can pursue legal action. To ensure that your work is fully protected, you must have at least a basic understanding of copyright and how it applies to you and your work.

Copyright is the protection afforded to all creators of published and unpublished work, including the authors of artistic, dramatic, literary, and musical works. In addition, when you register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office, your copyright is protected both in the United States and in those countries that have a copyright protection agreement with the U.S.

Copyright allows you total control over your work: With exclusive copyright, you can reproduce your work; distribute and sell your creation; publicly perform the work; and publicly display your work.

According to U.S. law, copyright is immediately established the moment a work is created. For example, if you write a book, you legally hold exclusive copyrights to that book, unless you wrote the book on a work-for-hire basis in which you agreed to transfer all copyrights to another individual or business.

Transferring all copyrights is a common practice today, but the transfer is only valid if there is a written agreement that is signed by the original author or a legal representative acting on his behalf. However, if you’re giving another individual nonexclusive rights to a work, you do not need a written agreement for it to be valid.

For all works created after January 1, 1978, works are automatically protected by copyright law from the moment of creation until 70 years after the author’s death. Those works that are created on a work-for-hire basis or that are created by an anonymous author or an author with a pseudonym are protected (unless the author’s name appears in records of the U.S. Copyright Office) for a period of 95 years from the work’s publication or for a period of 120 years from the date of its creation, whichever proves to be shorter.

Because not all works are eligible for protection under copyright law, it’s important that you know what types of works are protected: Those works that are protected by. copyright law include: literary, musical, dramatic, pictorial, graphic, sculptural, architectural, choreographic, and audiovisual works as well as sound recordings, motion pictures, and pantomimes.

There are numerous benefits to registering an eligible work with the U.S. Copyright Office. In addition to receiving a certificate of registration, your copyright will automatically become a part of public record. Additionally, should someone use your work without your permission, you can file suit against that individual and may be entitled to both statutory damages and attorney’s fees.

Registering for a copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office is a fairly straightforward process. In addition to filling out an application form, you must pay an application fee and provide a copy, or a nonrefundable deposit, of your work to the Copyright Office. Failing to send all of the materials together in the same package will likely result in having your package sent back to you.

Learn more about How to Copyright materials, where to get Copyright forms and how to use the Copyright Sign.