What is a copyright?
Copyright is a right conferred by Federal law which confers on the owner of certain types of works of original authorship the right to prevent copying or performance of the work without permission. Only certain types of works can be so protected.
How is a copyright obtained?
Copyright comes into existence automatically as the work is created. Nevertheless, there are reasons why it is desirable to register the copyright in the Copyright Office soon after creation. A copyright attorney should always be consulted before placing a copyright notice on a work believed to be entitled to.
When should a copyright registration be obtained?
A copyright should be obtained within three months after the first publication of the work occurs. By doing this, the owner obtains the right to recover his attorney's fees from infringers and to recover specified damages even in the absence of significant actual damage. A copyright registration also serves as tangible evidence of ownership of the copyright — a valuable asset when selling or licensing the copyright.
What types of works can be copyrighted?
Generally, original textual works, for example newspapers, and computer programs; works of the visual arts, for example paintings, architectural or engineering drawings, photographs, advertising art and sculpture; works of the performing arts, for example musical pieces of all types, choreography and plays; and sound recordings, for example tape recordings of music or drama; are copyrighted when created.
On the other hand, ideas, names, blank forms, short titles and other works lacking any originality are not copyrighted. In general, copyright extends only to the expression of an idea, not to the idea itself, which may be properly subject to patent protection, if protectable at all. For example, a copyright on a book about how to build an airplane can prevent copying of the book, but not the building of the airplane described in it.
How long does a copyright last?
In general, a copyright lasts for the life of the author, plus 70 years. The term is different for commissioned works and works where a corporation is the author, so a copyright attorney should be consulted regarding the existence of a valid copyright. This is a particularly important topic when considering the issue of infringement because of the extremely long life of a copyright and the lack of a requirement for copyright notice and registration as a precondition to copyright protection.
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