Introduction to Copyrights
What is a Copyright?
A copyright provides the author of an original work the rights to prohibit others from reproducing (copying), adapting (making a derivative work), distributing, performing, and displaying the work.
In order to be protected by the copyright law, the work sought to be protected must be an original work. That is, it has not been copied from another and it must be fixed in a “tangible medium of expression.” The phrase “tangible medium of expression” covers almost anything which can be read, viewed, heard or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine (written on paper, stored in a word processor, recorded on tape, etc.).
Only the form in which an idea or concept is expressed is protected by copyright. The underlying idea is not protected. The owner of an idea must rely upon the patent laws or trade secret laws for protection of the idea.
Copyright protection is automatic from the moment a work is created. Although not required, a proper copyright notice should be placed on the work to help ensure that full compensation is available in infringement actions. The notice may be placed on any original work. Prior registration is not necessary.
The notice includes three parts:
- The indication “ã” or “Copyright” or “Copr.”;
- The year of first publication;
- The copyright owner’s full name (usually the author or employer, unless copyright has been assigned to another).
Thus: “ã 1992 John P. Byron” or “Copyright 1992 Fredrikson & Byron, P.A.”
The United States has recently joined the Berne Convention, an international treaty governing copyright protection. Works first published in a country which is a Berne Convention member automatically receive protection in over 75 countries worldwide. Although copyright notice was an important formality in the U.S. for many years, U.S. copyright law was changed when we joined the Berne Convention. Due to these changes, copyright notice is no longer necessary for a work first published after 1 March 1989.
Although copyright protection will not be lost for such works if notice is omitted, we still recommend that copyright notice be placed on the work. Voluntary notice provides a number of benefits. For instance, an infringer will most likely be unable to claim that he or she has innocently infringed the copyright, which would reduce the damages recoverable by the copyright owner.
Although registration of a copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office is not mandatory for works created in the U.S., it is prerequisite for filing a copyright infringement suit. If registration is completed prior to the commencement of any infringement, or within three months of first publication, the copyright owner may be entitled to recover statutory damages and attorneys’ fees in an infringement suit. Also, copyright registration creates a presumption that the copyright in the work is valid, and the burden is on an infringer to prove otherwise.
Registration involves the filing of an appropriate application and the deposit of one or two copies of the work in the Copyright Office. The cost of preparing and filing an application includes the government fee of $30 and an attorney’s charge for preparation of the application. Our charge will vary depending upon the subject matter, and the amount of time involved. Typically our charge will be about $70-$100 for uncomplicated application.