US Copyright protection extends to original works of authorship that are fixed in a tangible form. Not just any written work or graphic design may be copyrightable, it must have a minimal degree of creativity in order to qualify as a protectable work. There are many different kinds of works of authorship protectable under US copyright statutes, including literary and textual works, musical compositions, music lyrics, musical recordings, recorded performances in audio and or visual mediums such as audio books and radio dramas, choreographic works, pictorial and graphic works, sculpture, art installations, and other three-dimensional artworks, films and other audiovisual works, architecture, software, and more. A work produced in any of these categories with the requisite level of creative expression is protectable under US copyright law.
Copyright holders have a specific set of rights in their creative work, including the right to reproduce the work, to prepare derivatives of the original (a variation on the original with new creative additions), to publish, or display or publish the work publicly, and to license or transfer ownership in the work. Copyrights do not protect against independently developed works that happen to resemble the copyright holder’s original work. Thus, if the suspected infringer had no access to the copyright holder’s work, and there is no striking similarity, there can be no infringement. US copyright law does not protect ideas or concepts, nor does it extend protection to titles, slogans, product names (see trademarks), common graphics or symbols (e.g., the fleur-di-lis). Copyright protection does not extend to the “use” of a work, but only to reproduction (copying) of the work. For example, a purchaser of a copyrighted recipe book is free to use the recipes to prepare food, but may not reproduce the book itself. The same is true for such things as the rules of a card or board game, recipes, mathematical formulae, chemical formulae, business plans, or processes. Facts and data are also excluded from copyright protection, as there is no creativity in publishing prosaic information.
For works created in the US after January 1, 1978 copyrights immediately come into being when the work of authorship is created and fixed in a tangible medium (a tangible medium can be virtually anything that allows the work of authorship to be preserved for more than a short period - e.g., a document on rewritable flash drive). However, copyright protection may be lost if the author or owner fails to include a copyright notice on every copy of the work. The copyright notice requires the word “Copyright” or an abbreviation such as the symbol ©, the year of publication, and the name of the author or owner (e.g., © 2020 Jane Author). In addition, it is important to register the copyrights in any valuable work of authorship. The registration is an important tool for protecting your intellectual property rights. To illustrate, in order to bring a lawsuit to enforce a copyright against infringers, the copyright in the work must be registered with the Library of Congress
. A registration has other benefits as well, including:
Creating a public record of the title, authorship and ownership of the work, and the address of the owner, It provides prima facie evidence that the registrant’s copyrights in the work are valid, It allows the registrant to pursue statutory damages, attorney’s fees, and costs when the registration is filed before an infringement occurs or if the copyright was registered within three months of publication of the work, Prevention of the importation of illegal copies of the work through U.S. Customs, and Web-based takedowns of infringing copies of your works by virtue of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act
– social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and commercial websites like Amazon are responsive to takedown requests when the copyright claim is supported by a registration.
These attributes of copyrights are potent tools. For example, statutory damages are established by section 504 of the Copyright Act and range between $750 and $30,000 per work infringed. Where an infringer has copied a set of photographs (e.g., pulled without permission from a website), a separate statutory damages award will be recoverable for the infringement of each photograph. The particular amount of each award is determined by the finder of fact (judge or jury). If the infringement is willful and intentional, the statutory damages can be increased up to $150,000 per work infringed.
Registering copyrights is a straightforward and cost-effective way to protect one’s intellectual property. Content creators of all kinds should consider the benefits and the relatively painless process of copyright registration to protect their valuable creative works.
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