How to Secure a Copyright

Creative works are not easy to produce. Fortunately, small business owners and entrepreneurs use intellectual property law to protect their creations. The creators of these works, even a startup, have intellectual property rights.

One of the most used intellectual property protections is copyrights. Copyright law allows the copyright holder to take legal actions and seek legal protections. In doing so, these small businesses can shield their brand. Unlike trademarks or patents, a copyright owner does not need to register their work before they can assert rights to it and defend it.

This article explains forms of intellectual property, how to secure a copyright on artistic works, and the advantages of registration with the United States Copyright Office.

Intellectual Property Rights Basics

Intellectual property (IP) exists in a few forms outside of copyright law. These other forms are:

Trademark: Registered with U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Trademark registration extends to unique business names, brand names, and product names for the goods or services associated with them. Logos, sounds, and names can be registered. A registered trademark with the federal government allows national protection and the option for international protection.

Patent: Registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Patents protect new and useful discoveries, methods, machines, and processes. There are three types of patents: utility, design, and plant. Utility patents cover how a machine or process works or is used, while a design patent focuses on the “look” of the mechanism or process. International patent protection happens through the World Intellectual Property Organization known as WIPO.

Trade secrets: There are no formal registration requirements, but IP protection happens when others sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). These documents are contracts that say the business or person will not share any information they learn about the company. A trade secret is an intangible asset that is important to a small business. It can be a recipe, client lists, or a business operations policy. Some states have laws based on the Uniform Trade Secrets Act that help protect the company if an employee divulges a trade secret.

The types of intellectual property a business has lead to different ways intellectual property theft can occur. Small business owners protect their intangible assets and creations with intellectual property protections. These include federal registrations, cease and desist letters, injunctions, and lawsuits.

Copyright Law History

The Copyright Act of 1976 required notice of copyright to secure a copyright. That notice requirement stopped when the United States followed the Berne Convention (effective March 1, 1989).

Under the current U.S. laws, securing copyright doesn’t require publication, registration, or any other action in the U.S. Copyright Office. Instead, the creation of a work secures copyright protection automatically. There are distinct advantages to registering with the U.S. Copyright Office for federal protection.

Protecting Your Intellectual Property by Copyright

Copyright protection is available to original works of authorship like:

  • Musical works
  • Sound recordings
  • Photographs
  • Literary works
  • Movies
  • Television
  • Software
  • Social media content
  • Domain names

The owner of a copyright has certain exclusive rights that make their work valuable. The copyright owner is the only person or business allowed to:

  • Sell the work
  • Perform the copyrighted work publicly
  • Reproduce the work
  • Create derivative works
  • Transfer ownership of the work, whether by complete transfer or by granting a license

Elements for a Copyright

A copyright needs to meet three criteria before it is eligible for copyright protection. The work must be:

  1. Fixed
  2. Original
  3. Creative

Securing Copyright Protection Through Creation

Copyright protection over a particular work happens at creation. For copyright purposes, a work is “created” when it is “fixed” into a physical form for the first time. A work is in a “physical form” when it can perceived by others. For works read or seen (even with the use of a device), the work becomes “fixed” through a “copy.” Examples of material objects considered “copies” are books, films, sheet music, or manuscripts. Material objects that hold sound, such as CDs, LPs, or digital music files, are “phonorecords.”

Copyright law only covers the manner or form in which ideas or information or ideas exist physically. Copyright protection does not extend to any ideas, concepts, techniques, or facts. Those things are intangible but not “fixed” in a physical form. This means that a general idea – such as a female vampire slayer – cannot secure copyright. Yet an original work, like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” can secure copyright. It is not the idea seeking copyright, but the original work itself in a physical form of a TV series.

Advantages of Copyright Registration

While registering with the U.S. Copyright Office is not necessary to secure a copyright, it does have advantages.

  1. Copyright registration provides the public with a record of your copyright claim. That notice is beneficial if anyone infringes on your copyright. This is why you often see the ⓒ symbol on works and websites.
  2. Copyright registration allows the copyright owner to file a lawsuit for copyright infringement. If there is no copyright registration with the U.S. Copyright Office, then a copyright infringement case is dismissed.
  3. A copyright owner who registers their copyright before infringement occurs or within three months of publishing the work may recover statutory fees and attorneys’ fees if there is a lawsuit.

How To Register a Copyright

Registering a copyright is an easy and straightforward process.

An application for copyright registration consists of three basic elements:

  1. An application form
  2. A non-returnable “deposit” of a copy of your work
  3. non-refundable filing fee

Registration is best done through the Registration Portal of the U.S. Copyright Office. The portal allows you to track the status of copyright registration, has a lower filing fee, and has a quicker processing time than a paper application.

Getting Legal Advice for Copyrights

If you would like to find out more about how to obtain copyright, or have other questions related to copyright law, you should talk to an experienced intellectual property attorney in your state. Copyright attorneys work alongside small businesses often and can also help with small business law topics like business plans, employee agreements, or distribution agreements.

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