Copyright – What Does It Mean


Copyright InfoCopyright Guide

For any creative or intellectual work to be protected by copyright law, it has to be an idea that has been fixed and expressed in some type of medium. It is also imperative that the expression of this idea is original. Originality is most recognized through a modicum of creativity in the manner in which the idea has been expressed. In other words, once a work has been completed and then fixed in some medium through which it can be produced, such as the hard drive of a computer, paper or the cloud, and the work can be classified as original, it can then be copyrighted.

Works are Automatically Protected

Works that are protectable by copyright law are automatically protected upon completion. The current U.S. copyright law does not require placing a copyright notice on the work, nor does it require that the work be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. There are some important benefits that are afforded to those who use the copyright notice and officially register their work, however.

Understanding the Meaning of Copyright Ownership

There are specific rights that copyright owners hold over their copyrighted work; however, the rights afforded under copyright law are not absolute. Some of the rights of copyright law include:

  • The law grants certain series of rights that are specifically associated with the reproduction of the work
  • Control of distribution of copies
  • The making of derivative works
  • Public display and performance of the works
  • Additionally, specific works of art also have moral protection as far as the name of the artist being on the art and the works being destroyed
  • People who own copyrights to works may also have the ability to prevent others from attempting to circumvent technological protection systems in order to access their work

The Author is the First Copyright Owner

By legal default, the author is the initial copyright owner. For instance, if a person writes a book, they are considered the copyright owner by default. There would have to be a contractual release of that right for the copyright ownership to change hands. The exception to this rule would be when someone develops a creative work on behalf of someone else, as in the work done by a freelance writer or web designer.

How to Copyright Your Work

As mentioned earlier, creative work within the U.S. is protected automatically under copyright law, regardless whether the work has a copyright notice or if it has been registered with the U.S. Copyright Office; however, for those who want to establish what may be considered official copyright protection, they can register their creative work with the U.S. Copyright Office, which will place their work on file. Having a specific “work” on file means that it can be researched by the public to determine who the actual copyright owner is. This can be important in a situation in which a work may have been shared and displayed over multiple mediums, and a third party entity wants to know who the original owner is.

Once a work has been completed, archive all of the work, including preliminary drafts, in one folder on the hard drive of a computer. Make sure that the folder in which the content is archived in is password protected. Then email that file to a friend whom you trust and asked them to archive it. What you are doing is establishing a date in which the first claim to ownership is made. Now you will have the work registered with the U.S. Copyright office, but you will also have the tangible proof of original ownership.

Why Copyright Protection is Important

The bottom line that makes copyright protection important is actually “the bottom line.” The person who controls the copyrights to a particular work also has the rights to the revenue generated by the creative works, and anyone who wants to use the work in order to generate revenue will have to go through the copyright owner. Copyright ownership also provides the owner legal rights to recover any money that may have been lost due to copyright infringement.

It is important to understand that the specific expression of an idea is copyrightable; however, the ideas themselves, are not. This means that ideas that have been specifically expressed in some form, such as screenplays, TV pilots, novels and blogs are protected; however, the ideas that led to the specific expressions are not. So, if a person decides to write a screenplay about mutant turtles, the screenplay is protected but the idea is not.

What Does Copyrighting Do for the Owner?

The simple answer to what copyright provides is that it provides proof of ownership; however, there are two things that must be understood here.

  1. If the work has already been created, the creator already owns the copyright the moment that the idea has been fixed is some tangible manner. Once the idea has been written, typed, painted or recorded, the one who created it owns the copyright to that expressed idea, and this protection is automatic.
  2. Copyright protection does not cover the idea itself, nor does it protect the creator’s open and unrecorded expressions. In other words, a screenplay writer who is pitching an idea for a new screenplay is subject to having his idea stolen and used without his consent, and it would be perfectly legal.

Copyrights Can Be Transferred

It is possible for copyright owners to give or sell their copyrights to others. These rights can be transferred temporarily or permanently through specific stipulation via a written contract. These types of contracts are often referred to as licensing agreements. Any entity that has obtained rights by way of a licensing agreement may only exercise the rights as they are expressed within the agreement.

It is also worth noting that the U.S. copyright laws apply to domestic and foreign works, regardless to whether the work originated in the U.S. or abroad. There are a number of multi-country treaties in place that compel a significant number of countries around the world to acknowledge work that is protected under U.S. copyright law. Understanding the rights afforded under copyright law is essential to optimizing the benefits that they produce.

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