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Hancey Law Offices

Hancey Law Offices

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Copyright Basics

Copyright BasicsWe have recently had clients ask us about some copyright basics. We thought this information could be useful to all of you.

A copyright is a form of protection provided to authors of “original works of authorship” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works, both published and unpublished.

Copyright protection subsists from the time the work is created in fixed form. The copyright in the work of authorship immediately becomes the property of the author who created the work. Only the author or those deriving their rights through the author can rightfully claim copyright.

Copyright protects “original works of authorship” that are fixed in a tangible form of expression. The fixation need not be directly perceptible so long as it may be communicated with the aid of a machine or device. Copyrightable works include the following categories:

a. literary works;
b. musical works, including any accompanying words
c. dramatic works, including any accompanying music
d. pantomimes and choreographic works
e. pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
f. motion pictures and other audiovisual works
g. sound recordings
h. architectural works

These categories should be viewed broadly. For example, computer programs and most “compilations” may be registered as “literary works”; maps and architectural plans may be registered as “pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works.”

In general, copyright registration is a legal formality intended to make a public record of the basic facts of a particular copyright. However, registration is not a condition of copyright protection. Even though registration is not a requirement for protection, the copyright law provides several inducements or advantages to encourage copyright owners to make registration. Among these advantages are the following:

a. Registration establishes a public record of the copyright claim.
b. Before an infringement suit may be filed in court, registration is necessary for works of U.S. origin.
c. If made before or within 5 years of publication, registration will establish prima facie evidence in court of the validity of the copyright and of the facts stated in the certificate.
d. If registration is made within 3 months after publication of the work or prior to an infringement of the work, statutory damages and attorney’s fees will be available to the copyright owner in court actions. Otherwise, only an award of actual damages and profits is available to the copyright owner.
e. Registration allows the owner of the copyright to record the registration with the U. S. Customs Service for protection against the importation of infringing copies. For additional information, go to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection here.

Registration may be made at any time within the life of the copyright. Unlike the law before 1978, when a work has been registered in unpublished form, it is not necessary to make another registration when the work becomes published, although the copyright owner may register the published edition, if desired.

The United States Copyright Office is a department of the Library of Congress. The Copyright Office website is a helpful resource for all of your copyright questions.

I hope this information was useful. If our office can be of assistance to you in any matter, please feel free to call.

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