Q: What is a copyright?

Copyright is a form of legal protection for “original works of authorship” that are “fixed in a tangible medium of expression”. Under the United States Copyright Act, “original” means that there must be “some minimal degree of creativity”. The threshold for meeting this requirement is low. It’s met as long as the work possesses some creativity “no matter how crude, humble or obvious it might be."

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Q: What do copyrightable “works of authorship” include?

“Works of authorship” include:

  • Literary, musical and dramatic works
  • Pantomimes and choreographic works
  • Pictorial, graphic and sculptural works
  • Sound Recordings
  • Motion pictures and other audio-visual works
  • Computer programs
  • Compilations of works and derivative works
  • Architectural works

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Q: What isn’t copyrightable?

According to the U.S. Copyright Office, things that aren’t copyrightable include:

  • Ideas, processes, systems, methods of operation, concepts, principles or discoveries incorporated into a work.
  • Commonly known information such as facts, news and research. Examples include standard calendars, height and weight charts, and telephone directories.
  • Titles, names (including business names), short phrases and slogans, and product descriptions. However, these things may be protected with a trademark.
  • Works that aren’t fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Examples include performances, choreographic works and speeches that haven’t been recorded, notated or transcribed.
  • Works in the public domain. Examples include works of U.S. government employees created in their capacity as employees.
  • Fashion articles (i.e. articles of clothing and accessories). Although copyright law protects architectural design works and visual arts works, clothing and accessories are considered “useful articles” and thus not copyrightable. However, specific fabric patterns may be copyrightable and clothing designs may be patentable.

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Q: Why should I register my copyright?

Registration (a) creates a presumption that you’re the owner of the copyright, (b) allows only you to make copies, and (c) makes you eligible to recover an award of statutory damages and attorney’s fees in appropriate circumstances should someone infringe your registered copyright.

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Q: How long does the registration process take?

Typically, about one year.

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Q: Do I have to use a copyright notice?

No. Using a copyright notice has been optional since March 1, 1989. But using a copyright notice is helpful in a number of ways:

  • It establishes a public record of the copyright claim to your work.
  • It’s proof in court of your copyright as long as registration occurs within 5 years of publication.
  • It’s necessary if you want to file a copyright infringement lawsuit in federal court. Also, if registration is made within 3 months prior to infringement of the work you’re entitled to seek statutory damages and attorney’s fees in your infringement action.
  • Registration constitutes a public record of the copyright claim to your work.

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Q: What are the deadlines for filing a copyright application?

You can file an application to register your copyrightable work of authorship at any time. However, the sooner you do so, the better your enforcement options.

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Q: How do I find who holds the rights to a copyright?

Some locations to look include the US Copyright Office’s official website an internet search.

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