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Home > FAQs > Copyrights


I. What is a copyright?

A copyright is a form of intellectual property right granted by the federal government for “original works of authorship.” The copyright itself includes five basic rights regarding the use or exploitation of the copyrighted work. With certain limitations, the owner of a copyright has the exclusive right to 1) reproduce the copyrighted work; 2) prepare derivative works; 3) distribute copies; 4) perform the copyrighted work publicly; and 5) display the copyrighted work publicly.

II. What is the value of a copyright?

A copyright prevents others from benefiting unfairly from the author’s creativity. The value of the copyright is in requiring that others either make their own investment of time, money, and creativity to create their own work, or that they purchase the rights to use the author’s work.

III. How are copyrights obtained?

A copyright exists under federal law once a work is fixed in some tangible form. However, to maximize protection under the copyright law, place a copyright notice on each copy of the work. Proper notice consists of three elements: 1) the symbol ©, the word copyright or an abbreviation; 2) the year of first publication; and 3) the name of the owner of the copyright.

A copyright may be registered with the federal government by filling out a simple form, paying a nominal fee, and submitting a deposit of the work. Registration is required in order to bring a suit to stop infringement. Also, prompt registration may entitle the copyright owner to several advantages in the event that its copyrights are infringed. Copyrights last for the lifetime of the author plus 70 years or for 95-120 years if the work is made for hire for a business entity.

IV. What types of things qualify for copyright protection?

Any original work of authorship that is fixed in some tangible form of expression qualifies for copyright protection. “Works” such as literary, musical, dramatic, pictorial, motion pictures, and sound recordings are all protectable. Computer programs, for example, are considered literary works.

V. What does not qualify for copyright protection?

Works that consist entirely of common information or matters of common knowledge are not protectable by copyright. For example, standard calendars and the common markings on rulers or measuring tapes lack the requisite originality or authorship. Ideas, concepts, or procedures alone are not considered works of authorship and cannot be protected by copyright.

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