Curious about what copyright means? Wondering how you establish a copyright claim?

We turned to the Federal Citizen Information Center for some basics on copyright law.

We know: 1-Minute Lesson On Copyright

What kinds of things can copyrighted?

In general, copyright protects authors of original work, including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic and certain other intellectual works.

Copyright protection is available to both published and unpublished works.

What kinds of things CAN NOT be copyrighted?

Works that have not been fixed in a tangible form of expression, titles, names, short phrases, slogans, ideas, procedures, concepts, principles---as distinguished from a description, explanation or illustration.

What does it mean when I hold the copyright to my original work?

The owner of the copyright has the exclusive right to, or to authorize someone else to:

  • Reproduce the copyrighted work in copies
  • Prepare derivative works based on the copyrighted work
  • Distribute copies or phonorecords of the work by sale, rental, lease or lending
  • Perform or display the copyrighted work publicly (including movies and digital audio transmission)

Who can claim copyright?

Once someone creates an original work in fixed form, the copyright immediately becomes the property of the author who created it. Only the author can rightfully claim copyright.

However, in the case of works for hire, the employer, not the employee, is considered to be the author.

How do I secure a copyright?

Copyright is secured automatically when the work is created and fixed in a copy or phonorecord for the first time. Once an author has created material in a fixed form, she or he holds the copyright. No publication or registration or other action in the Copyright Office is required to secure copyright.

However, registering the copyright helps to establish a record that you are the author, and helps to establish the date when you claim to have recreated the material.

So, what does copyright registration mean, then?

In general, copyright registration (with the Copyright Office in Washington D.C.) is a legal formality intended to make a public record of the basic facts of a particular copyright.

Here’s why registration can help:

  • When you register, it establishes a public record of your copyright claim.
  • In order for you to file an infringement suit, registration of the work is usually necessary.
  • Registration may be made at anytime within the life of the copyright, but you derive some advantages by registering it earlier rather than later.

Where do I register?

With the Copyright Office in Washington D.C.

Are there other things I can do to help establish my claim to copyright?

When you make copies of your work, you help establish your claim by writing Copyright /Your Name/The Year on each copy you make.

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