Copyright is the right of authors to control the use of their work. Copyrights protect original works that are fixed in “tangible forms of expression.” For example, a song can be written on paper, recorded digitally, or both, and the author has a copyright as soon as either or both is done.
United States copyright law affords the next level of protection, so once an author registers the copyright to a work, all who come into contact with the work are on notice that it is owned by someone and that it is protected by federal copyright law.
Since March 1, 1989, a work is not required to contain a copyright notice, and copyright registration is also no longer required. However, it is wise to affix a copyright notice to a work so that its owner can be easily identified and to remind others not to infringe.
Copyrightable works include the following:
- Literary works
- Musical works, including any accompanying words
- Dramatic works, including any accompanying music
- Pantomimes and choreographic works
- Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
- Motion pictures and other audiovisual works
- Sound recordings
- Architectural works
These categories should be viewed broadly. For example, computer programs may be registered as literary works, and maps and architectural plans may be registered as "pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works."
There are also many works that cannot be copyrighted, such as:
- Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, and processes;
- Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans;
- Facts, news, and research;
- Works in the public domain; and
- Works that are not fixed in a tangible medium of expression.
Copyright law has its own set of unique issues that have been created by the Internet. Because much of the content of a webpage can be crafted with “copy and paste” or “drag and drop” design techniques, it is easy to infringe upon another’s copyright or to have your works copied without your permission.
Do you need to consult a copyright attorney? One type of question BLG’s Intellectual Property attorneys are often asked is whether someone may use a portion of a song, photograph or other copyrighted work on a website without infringing on the owner’s copyright. For example, the owner of a gas station wanted to know if he could use a few seconds of an internationally popular song in his upcoming internet ad without paying a huge licensing fee that the song’s copyright owner would undoubtedly demand. In that instance, the few-second portion of the song that the gas station owner wanted to use was the song’s signature phrase (the “heart” of the work), and the use was most definitely for profit, so there was no way he could get around having to pay the fee.
For a flat fee, an experienced and knowledgeable BLG copyright attorney can help you prepare and submit a simple copyright registration. BLG can also assist you by searching for potential infringement on your copyright. The BLG staff stands ready to assist you with copyright registration and legal opinions related to copyright issues.