blog post

COPYRIGHT

Basic understanding

What Is a Copyright?

Copyright is a form of protection provided to the authors of “original works of authorship” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works, both published and unpublished.  Copyright comes from the U.S. Constitution, which states: “To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”

In addition, the 1976 Copyright Act generally gives the owner of a copyright the exclusive right to reproduce the copyrighted work, to prepare derivative works, to distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work, to perform the copyrighted work publicly, or to display the copyrighted work publicly.  The following are some important amendments to the Act:

  • The Computer Software Act of 1980, which applies protection to computer software.
  • The Digital Millennium Act of 1998, which attempted to reconcile copyright and the Internet.

The copyright protects the form of expression rather than the subject matter of the writing. For example, a description of a machine could be copyrighted, but this would only prevent others from copying the description; it would not prevent others from writing a description of their own or from making and using the machine. Copyrights are registered by the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress

Benefits of Copyright registration

Public notice of your ownership: Your work will be published in the Copyright Office’s Catalog and will be searchable to the public.  Anybody thinking of using this work will be able to search this Catalog and see that your work is protected.  This gives constructive notice to the public that you own the work and helps defeat claims of “innocent infringement.”

Legal evidence of ownership: If somebody takes your work, registration will avoid a costly dispute over the actual ownership.  Your copyright registration will provide proof of your ownership and relieve you of this legal burden.

Validity: Your registration will demonstrate the validity of your copyright if it is registered within five years of publication.  This can prevent future challenges to your rights in the work.

Maximization of damages: Without a timely registration, a copyright holder is limited to actual damages in the case of infringement.  These can be nominal and/or difficult to prove.  With a registration, the copyright holder is entitled to statutory damages and attorneys’ fees.  Rather than having to prove actual damages, a copyright holder with a timely registration may be eligible for statutory damages of up to $150,000 per infringement, plus attorneys’ fees.  However, to claim these damages, the registration must be made within three months of the work’s publication or before the infringement occurs.  Therefore, time is of the essence.

Ability to bring an infringement suit: Perhaps the most important benefit.  Even though a copyright holder has rights in a work, those rights, with limited exception, cannot be enforced through the courts unless the work is registered with the U.S. Copyright Office.  Without registration, a copyright holder cannot bring a lawsuit for copyright infringement.

Procedure for the Copyright registration