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Copyright Pointers

Copyright exists to protect creators of any tangible medium of expression and encourage creativity. It a property right in the original work of literature, music, art, photographs, film, and others, giving the copyright owner the exclusive right to produce adapt, distribute, perform, and display the work. The following provides some general pointers regarding copyrighted material.

Notice of Copyright

  • Add a copyright notice on your creation, especially before you send it to somebody, with your name and the date of publication. For example:
    • © 2005 Thomson/West
    • Copyright 2005 Thomson/West
    • Note: Although the notice is not required for works created after March 1989, providing a notice serves to notify others of your claim to rights in the work.
  • Although publications written by employees of the United States government are not copyrighted, you cannot claim a copyright on them as part of your work. Instead, you should state in your copyright claim that you are not claiming copyright on them. For example:
    • © 2005 Thomson/West. No claim to original U.S. government works.
    • Use this notice when the product contains a significant amount of government material.
    • Note: This notice of excluded material is not required for publications after March 1, 1989, including it helps prevent a claim of innocent infringement of rights in a work.
    • When you are claiming protection for something you have recorded, the copyright symbol is not used. Instead use the letter "P" in a circle. The P in the circle symbol represents the copyright-law term "phonorecord," which includes LPs, 45s, eight-tracks, cassette tapes, and CDs.

Copyright Material

  • You cannot claim a copyright on ideas or facts.
  • You cannot copyright familiar symbols or designs, like K or L or a smiley face.
  • A work may be copyrighted if it is original, shows minimal creativity, and is fixed in some tangible form of expression that can be seen or heard.

Rights Acquired

  • With a copyright, you control the copying of your creative work, the right to distribute it, display it, or perform it.
  • A copyright owner also holds rights to derivative works, such as adapting a novel for a movie, or reinterpreting a song like the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" as a country song.
  • The right to control public performance and display includes activities like staging the musical "Rent" at the local dinner theatre, or broadcasting any portion of a football game at any time without the prior express written consent of the National Football League. But if you want to stage the opera La Bohème, you most likely are not infringing any copyright (the work is probably too old and might not have been copyrighted in the first place).
  • You have the right to transfer your exclusive rights or any portion of those rights to another person, but the transfer must be in writing with your signature.
  • Rights to protected material may be given away, put into a trust, or given in a will.
  • Rights to a protected work also may be "rented" by giving another person a license to use or copy the work. (A license is a contract granting permission to do something.)
  • A transfer of copyright, including an exclusive license, must be made in writing.
  • You can create something and not acquire any rights in it if you are creating a "work for hire."

International Protection

  • Whether your copyright will be recognized in another country will depend on the individual country's copyright laws. Some countries have entered into treaties to protect foreign copyrights.
  • If you are concerned about whether your copyright will be protected in a particular country and how much protection there will be, you should consult a copyright lawyer experienced in international copyright law.

Registering Your Copyright

  • Your copyright must be registered with the United States Copyright Office before you can seek a court order to stop someone from infringing it.
  • Your registration takes effect as soon as the Copyright Office receives all of the required items in an acceptable form, regardless of the amount of time it takes for the application to be processed.
  • To register the copyright, you must send in a completed application form, a filing fee, and a copy of the work to be registered, to the Copyright Office, located at the Library of Congress. The copy of your work (called a deposit) is not returnable; the deposit belongs to the Library of Congress.
  • Note: If your work is a phonorecord, you must deposit two copies of the best edition.
  • Your application, fee, and deposit must be sent in the same envelope or package.
  • If you are registering more than one work, each work must have its own application and filing fee, and the Copyright Office prefers to have them all in the same package.
  • If you do not enclose all the required items, your application will be returned.
  • Some kinds of works have special requirements for the deposit. For example, if you are trying to register a computer program, whether it is published or not, you need to deposit one copy in source code that is visually perceptible; usually this means a printout. If your program is fewer than fifty pages, you must deposit a printout of the entire program. If your program is longer than that, you must send the first twenty-five pages of the program and the last twenty-five pages. Additional rules exist for deposits in CD-ROM format.
  • Other special deposit requirements exist for:
  • movies
  • literary, dramatic, or musical work published only as a phonorecord
  • works formatted on a CD-ROM
  • works that exist in three dimensions
  • works of visual art, like greeting cards or fabric patterns
  • oversized items
  • video games
  • automated databases
  • contributions to collective works
  • serial works
  • You will not get a notice stating that the Copyright Office has received your application. You can, however, send your application by registered or certified mail with a return receipt requested. This will ensure that you will know the date on which the package was received.
  • If there is a problem with your application, you will get a letter or telephone call seeking more information or a letter explaining that the application was rejected.

Searching Copyright Information

You can search the Copyright Office's records of copyright and registration for works registered from January 1, 1978 forward. Access through the Internet is possible at www.loc.gov/copyright/rb.html. If you have Telnet access, go to locis.loc.gov.

Thomson-West provides print and electronic products that provide further information about this process and the law concerning trademarks. See http://www.Thomson-West.com.

Copyright © 2008 FindLaw, a Thomson Reuters business

DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein are intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent counsel for advice on any legal matter.

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