Basics for Obtaining Copyright Protection

By: Jim Dossey, MSE, MBA, JD

Copyrights are a form of protection provided by the United States for the authors of "original works of authorship," including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works. Copyrights give the owner exclusive rights to:

  1. reproduce the work
  2. prepare derivative works based upon the work
  3. distribute copies of the work
  4. perform the work publicly, and
  5. display the work publicly.

A creator automatically has a "common law" copyright just by virtue of creating the work. A "common law" copyright does not have to be registered and it is free. That being said, most people opt for obtaining a federal trademark. Not only is is relatively inexpensive (approx. $30-$100 plus legal fees), having a federal copyright enables the owner to sue someone for copyright infringement in court.

A federal copyright can be obtained any time during the life of the copyright, which is 70 years after the creator's death. However, it makes sense to file for the copyright within 3 months of publication because the owner will have access to additional damages should you ever need to bring an infringement suit. A copy of the work must be deposited with the Library of Congress as a requirement of the federal registration process.

A copyright is created automatically for the creator as an individual unless they were working as an employee of their company. If the creator was an employee, then the ownership of the copyright vests in the name of that company as a work for hire. If the creator was not an employee, but they still want the ownership to be listed in the name of the company, the creator will need to transfer the ownership from them as an individual to the company using an instrument of conveyance such as an assignment or bill of sale.

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