What are Copyrights?

Bendelow Law Office LLC, Colorado
Copyrights are a form of protection governed exclusively by the Copyright Act (Title 17 of the United States Code) and provided to authors of “original works of authorship.” Such works include computer programs, writings, artwork, photographs, choreographed material, etc., which need not be published so long as they are actually created (take the form of a tangible medium of expression).

What Do Copyrights Protect?
The Copyright Act gives the owner of the work the exclusive right to: (1) reproduce and distribute copies of the copyrighted work; (2) prepare derivative works based on the copyrighted work; (3) perform and/or display the copyrighted work; and (3) prevent any intentional changes to the copyrighted work. Copyright owners may also authorize others to exercise these rights.

Copyrights do not protect ideas, procedures, processes, systems, concepts, principles, or discoveries included in the work. (Such items may, however, be protected with patents). Copyrights do not imply or convey an exclusive right in the preexisting material from which the work was created. Nor do copyrights protect titles, names, logos, symbols, or slogans (protection of these items may be available under trademark law).

When is a Copyright Secured?
Copyrights are secured automatically when the work is created.

What is the Duration of a Copyright?
The minimum period for a copyright is currently fifty years.

Why Register a Copyright with the Copyright Office?
While registration is not required to establish a copyright, it does provide substantial advantages to copyright owners. Such advantages include: (1) establishment of a public record of the copyright claim; (2) usually, registration is necessary before a copyright action for infringement can be filed; (3) if registered within five years after publication of the work, registration is prima facie evidence of the validity of the copyright and of the facts stated in the copyright certificate; and (4) if registered prior to an infringement, or within three months after publication, registration empowers the copyright owner to obtain statutory damages and attorney fees for infringement of the copyright.

How is a Copyright Registered?
As indicated above, there are considerable advantages to filing such applications as early as possible. It is essential that a claim to copyright be correctly registered. A complete application for registration requires proper completion of the appropriate form. In some cases the appropriate form may be difficult to ascertain. With a book of short stories, for example, selecting the appropriate copyright application form will depend on whether the book, the individual stories, or both are to be copyrighted. Submission of “depository material” (the best edition of the work sought to be registered) is also required together with payment of a filing fee.