U.S. Copyright Laws

U.S. copyright laws generally govern original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Under such copyright laws, an owner of a copyright has the right to reproduce his or her work, to prepare derivative copies, to distribute the work, and to prepare or perform the work publicly. Those same copyright laws can prevent others from copying, making derivative works of, performing, distributing, or selling copies or counterfeits of original works of authorship, such as music, lyrics, books, plays, poems, paintings, sculpture, photographs, architectural designs, and software. Copyright laws, however, do not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed.

Registration of Works

Under U.S. copyright laws, registration of a work with the Copyright Office is generally not required unless a copyright owner wishes to bring a lawsuit for infringement. Copyright laws, however, afford certain statutory damages and attorneys’ fees in successful litigation of registered works, and registration is a prerequisite for recovery of each. Copyright registration is also generally recommended if the owner wishes to have the facts of their copyright on the public record and have a certificate of registration.

Term of Protection

U.S. copyright laws have been amended a number of times and, in particular, copyright laws have changed the term of protection afforded to a particular work. As a general rule, for works created after January 1, 1978, copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years. For an anonymous work, a pseudonymous work, or a work made for hire, copyright laws provide copyright protection for 95 years from the year of its first publication or a term of 120 years from the year of its creation, whichever expires first. It is advisable to seek counsel from a copyright attorney when assessing copyright laws that govern the term of protection for a particular work.

Notice Provisions

The symbol © is an identifier placed on copies of the work to inform the world of copyright ownership. In general, the copyright notice should include the name of the copyright owner and the year of first publication (e.g., © 2006 John Doe). Under U.S. copyright laws, registration of the work is not required to use the © symbol. However, if an infringed work carries the proper notice, a defendant cannot rely on an innocent infringement defense to reduce damages that the copyright owner would otherwise receive.

Distinguishing Copyright Laws

Although copyright laws and laws governing patents, trademarks, and trade secrets are somewhat similar, each offer different protections and are distinct from one another. For example, copyright laws protects original works of authorship, while patent laws protects inventions or discoveries. Copyright laws protect the expression of the idea, not the idea itself. Trademark laws, on the other hand, protect words, phrases, symbols, or designs that identify the source of the goods or services of one party and distinguish them from those of others. Trade secret laws protect any formula, process, design, or compilation of information, which is not generally ascertainable or known publicly, by which a company can obtain an economic advantage over competitors or customers. Advice of intellectual property counsel is prudent when assessing a company’s copyright portfolio, any governing copyright laws, and copyright enforcement procedures.

About the Firm:

Klemchuk LLP is an Intellectual Property (IP), Technology, Internet, and Business law firm.  The firm offers comprehensive legal services including litigation and enforcement of all forms of IP as well as registration and licensing of patents, trademarks, trade dress, and copyrights.  The firm also provides a wide range of technology, Internet, e-commerce, and business services including business planning, formation, and financing, mergers and acquisitions, business litigation, data privacy, and domain name dispute resolution.  Additional information about the IP law firm and its IP law attorneys may be found at www.klemchuk.com.

 Klemchuk LLP hosts Culture Counts, a blog devoted to the discussion of law firm culture and corporate core values with frequent topics about positive work environment, conscious capitalism, entrepreneurial management, positive workplace culture, workplace productivity, and corporate core values.