A GUIDE TO COPYRIGHTS

What is a Copyright?
Copyright is a property right given to creators of original works for literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual areas.  The Copyright Act allows the owner of a copyright the exclusive right to reproduce the work, prepare follow-up works (called derivative works) based upon previous works, distribute copies, and display or perform the work.


How do I receive a copyright?  Do I need to mail myself a copy of my work?
Authors or creators of works have copyrights when the work is created in fixed form, or is something that you can touch.  Mailing a work, sometimes called a poorman’s copyright, is not necessary to create the copyright.


If I have a copyright, why do I need a copyright registration?
Even though registration is not a requirement for protection, copyright law provides several benefits to encourage copyright owners to make registration. Among these advantages are the following:

• Registration makes a record of your copyright claim;

• You must have a registration to sue for copyright infringement;

• If you apply for registration before you show your creation to the public or within five years of displaying your creation, a court will presume your copyright is valid and the information listed in your application is correct;

• Registration provides significant advantages in recovering damages for an infringement suit.  If you apply for registration within 3 months after you displaying your creation or prior to an infringement of the work, you may receive statutory damages and attorney's fees in a court action. Otherwise, only an award of actual damages and profits is available to the copyright owner.

• Registration allows the owner of the copyright to record the registration with the United States customs officials for protection against the importation of infringing copies.


Do I need to have a copyright notice on my artwork?  What should it say?
The copyright notice, which is typically recognized as ©, is no longer required under U.S. law, although use of the copyright notice is beneficial.

Copyright notice tells everyone who views your work that the work is protected by copyright. If someone decides to infringe your copyright, copyright notice limits the infringer’s ability to claim innocent infringement (innocent infringement occurs when the infringer did not realize that the work was protected).

You do not need to request permission to use the copyright notice.

The form for the copyright notice should include:

• The symbol © (the letter C in a circle), or the word “Copyright,” or the abbreviation “Copr.”;

• The year you first displayed your work; and

• The name of the owner of copyright in the work.

For example: © 2008 Keisling Pieper & Scott PLC


I own a small business making lamps.  My employees sometimes modify the shades or the bases of the lamps.  Do I own these new designs or do my employees?
For business owners, the creation of copyrightable works by employees can be a concern.  Typically, the person making a design or writing a book owns the creative work.  However, the concept of work made for hire provides a minor exception to the general rule of authorship.  If a work is a work made for hire, the employer or other person for whom the work was prepared is the initial owner of the copyright.  However, some instances, such as work done by an independent contractor, arise where it may still be necessary for the parties to expressly agree in writing that the work shall be considered a work made for hire. 

If you have employees that contribute designs or other creative works, it is best to consult with an attorney to make sure your rights as an employer are secure.


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