What is a copyright?

Copyright is a form of protection provided to the authors of original works including literary, dramatic, musical and other intellectual works. A copyright does not protect an idea, but rather the expression of that idea.

What rights come with copyright protection?

Copyright protects creative expression from being copied, distributed, modified, performed or displayed without permission from the owner.


What is copyrightable?

Copyright protects creative expression in a wide variety of forms, including: literary works, computer software, musical works (the lyrics, the musical score, and the sound recording of the work), dramatic works, pantomimes and choreographic works, pictures, graphics of any type in any medium, sculptural works, photographs, videos and motion pictures.


Only the “expression” of an idea is copyrightable. Ideas themselves, methods, inventions, processes, titles, slogans and familiar symbols are not copyrightable. In addition, to be copyrightable a work must be fixed in a tangible form (for example a musical work which has not be recorded or notated is not yet copyrightable). Also note that lists and charts which are made up of common knowledge  or public information may not be protected by copyright. At the same time, copyright may protect a logo if it is an artistic logo with sufficient creativity. This logo may also be protected as a trademark.


How do I notify others of my copyright?

For visually perceptible copies, such as writings, copyright notice requires the following elements:


the symbol ©, or the word “Copyright,” or the abbreviation “Copr.”

the year of first publication of the work

the name of the copyright owner

Ex. © 2005 Jane Doe


Other types of works, such as sound recordings, use a different form of notification.

Notice informs the public that the work is protected by copyright. The use of such notice does not require copyright registration and is the responsibility of the author or owner. For more on copyright notice please see


How do I get copyright protection?

In the United States, copyright protection automatically attaches the moment a work is fixed in a tangible medium – for example a story has been written down, music has been recorded, or art work has been painted. This means that no publication, registration or other action in the U.S. Copyright Office is required to secure a copyright. However, copyright registration does come with advantages.


What are the advantages of copyright registration with the Copyright Office?

Even though registration is not a requirement for protection, copyright law provides the following advantages to encourage copyright owners to make registration:

  1. Registration establishes a public record of the copyright claim.

  2. Before an infringement suit may be filed in court, registration is necessary for works of U.S. origin.

  3. If made before or within five years of publication, registration will establish prima facie evidence in court of the validity of the copyright and of the facts stated in the certificate.

  4. If registration is made within three months after publication of the work or prior to an infringement of the work, statutory damages and attorneys’ fees will be available to the copyright owner in court actions. Otherwise, only an award of actual damages and profits is available to the copyright owner.

  5. Registration allows the owner of the copyright to record the registration with the U.S. Customs Service for protection against the importation of infringing copies.


How long does copyright protection last?

For works created after January 1, 1978, the term of a copyright is generally the life of the author plus an additional 70 years. If the copyright is owned by a corporation or similar entity, the life of a copyright is 120 years from the day the work is created or 95 years from the day that the work was published—whichever occurs first. For older works, the life of the copyright may be different from the above.


Who owns a copyright?

The general rule is that the author of the work owns the copyright. The author is the one who actually creates the work in question. This presumption can be altered when there is a written agreement signed by the author assigning the copyright to someone else, who then becomes the copyright owner. In a business relationship where creative expression will result, the parties should decide who will own the resulting copyright in advance. Additionally, in the case of works created by employees in the course of employment, the presumption is the employer owns the resulting copyright – but this too can be altered by written agreement. Issues regarding ownership are best addressed in advance.


Do I need permission or consent to use someone else’s copyrighted work?

Generally, yes. Obtaining consent from a copyright owner prior to use is always a good idea. Using a copyright owner’s work without permission may be considered infringement, and you may be liable.

Importantly, however, while a copyright owner has a number of exclusive rights, a copyright owner also has the right to authorize or consent to certain acts in connection with their copyrighted work. Consent is generally given through permissions or licensing contracts.


For more basic information on copyrights follow this link