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What is a Copyright?

Updated: May 8

Are you an artist, musician, photographer, or writer? Do you create beautiful works of art, breathtaking photos, inspiring songs, or original poems or stories?

If so, then you may want to consider copyright registration.

Most people don’t know the difference between a copyright and a trademark. After all, they both protect intellectual property and give sole rights to the creator. Here, we will break down what a copyright is.

What is a Copyright?

Copyright literally means “the right to copy”.

A copyright is an automatic protection given to original works, so long as it is physically tangible. It provides the author or creator exclusive rights to claim, reproduce, and distribute their work. It also must be able to be perceived in physical or digital form.

To file for copyright protection, you must prove three things:

  • You are the author of a creative work

  • This work is original

  • The work is in a tangible medium of expression (like a video recording, written on paper, or saved on a computer)

What Does Copyright Protect?

For the most part, works that are considered creations are copyrighted. These works must be original, show some degree of creativity, and be physically or digitally fixed in or on a tangible medium. Some works protected under copyright law include:

  • Literary Works (Books, Stories, Poems, Research Papers)

  • Artistic Works (Drawing, Paintings, Sculptures, Songs, Dances, Movies, Architecture)

  • Computer Software

What Does Copyright Not Protect?

As a rule of thumb, most things that can be patented or trademarked cannot be copyrighted, including:

  • Names

  • Words

  • Symbols

  • Inventions

  • Discoveries

  • Designs

  • Ideas

How Long Does Copyright Protection Last?

In general, for any works created after January 1, 1978, copyrights last for the remainder of the original creator’s life plus 70 years after passing.

Works done by an author, designer, or creator for their employer are almost always owned by the employer. In this case, the copyright is recognized for 95 years after the work was published or 120 years after its original conception — whichever comes first.

How to Obtain a Copyright

A copyright is automatically secured when you create your work in a tangible form, such as paper, canvas, storage device, or a computer. Since copyright is automatically established at the conception of your work, registration is not required for lawful protection.

However, registering a copyright is invaluable for many other reasons. If you ever have to take legal action against copyright infringement, having an officially registered copyright will help defend your case.

Because a copyright is made public, a court will be able to identify the creation date and all other relevant information tied to it. This helps defend your case and ensures you remain the only person able to copy and distribute the copyrighted work.

The easiest and quickest way to register your copyright is to fill out the online form provided by the U.S. Copyright Office. You’ll need to create an account and carefully follow the instructions to avoid errors that might delay your registration process. To make the process easier, the U.S. Copyright Office has compiled these comprehensive tutorial videos.

Why are Copyrights Important for Small Businesses?

Creations like unique artwork, commercials, and proprietary computer software are all legally protected under copyright law. It's all too easy for other businesses to steal music, works of art, and original creations, and profit off of your unique ideas. If other businesses, whether they're another small business or a large corporation, profit off of your work, a formally-registered copyright helps defend your rights.

Plus, having the sole right to publish, distribute, and profit off these original works helps you stand out among competitors.

Although not required, we do recommend registering your copyright so it can become a public record. Doing so will help your case in court if infringement occurs.

What is Copyright Infringement?

Copyright infringement is when an original, copyrighted work gets published or distributed in any way by someone that doesn’t have permission. Anyone that wishes to legally publish or distribute any protected work that isn’t theirs must be granted permission by the creator.

Need Help Registering Your Copyright?

While copyright registration is not required for the legal protection of your work, it will make any litigation easier. This not only protects your work, but also gives you peace of mind!

We are well versed in intellectual property law and can help you along every step of the way. We will provide expert recommendations and help navigate any obstacles you come across. Contact us today to make it official, so you can keep creating beautiful works without having to worry!

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