MSN Law Office

Copyright Registration
Columbus, Ohio

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Intellectual Property

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Copyright Registration

What is copyright?
Copyright is a form of intellectual property law that protects original works of authorship. This protection applies to literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture.

The owner of the copyright has the exclusive right to do certain things or give others permission to do those things. Copyright includes the right to:

  • Make copies of the work
  • Make derivatives of the work (i.e., variations, revisions, adaptations, etc.)
  • Distribute the work (whether by sale, rental, license, etc.)
  • Perform the work (i.e., musicals, dramatic works, other audiovisual works, even playing recorded music)
  • Display the work (i.e., displaying artwork, movies, TV shows, photos, etc.)

However, copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed. If you want to protect your business ideas from competitors, then consider whether those ideas are trade secrets or can be protected by confidentiality and nondisclosure agreements.

Copyright also doesn’t protect titles, brand names, slogans, or other short phrases. But sometimes, these items can be protected by trademark law.

Who owns the copyright?
The copyright in a work initially belongs to the “author” of that work. In the legal sense, “author” typically refers to the person who originally created the work.

If the person who created the work was an employee, and the work was created within the scope of their employment, then the “author” is actually the employer. But if the person who created the work was an independent contractor, then the contractor is the author unless the work qualifies as a work made for hire.

If multiple people contributed to the creation of a work, then they are considered joint owners of the work. Joint owners don’t need each other’s permission to profit from the work by selling copies or licensing the work to others. However, they do have the share in the profits earned from doing so, unless they have a contract that says otherwise.

Should I register my copyrights?
The main reason to register your copyright is that copyright registration is a prerequisite for bringing a lawsuit for copyright infringement. Without a copyright registration, you cannot sue someone for copyright infringement, regardless of your “poor man’s copyright” (a legal fiction, by the way). So if your work is worth more than the copyright registration fee, then you should register your copyright.

Copyright registration also creates a public record of your copyright claim. If you register your copyright within five years of publication of your work, then the registration is considered prima facie evidence of the validity of your copyright. In other words, by registering your copyright, the burden is no longer on you to prove you are the author or creator of the work.

Better still, if you register your copyright within three months of publication (or prior to any copyright infringement), then you are entitled to statutory damages (generally, $750 – $30,000 per work) and attorney’s fees. If you can show that the infringement was “willful,” then the court can award up to $150,000 for copyright infringement.

Can I use the copyright © symbol without registering my copyrights?
Yes. While notice is no longer required under U.S. Copyright law, including a copyright notice on your work puts the general public on notice of several important facts, including (a) that the work is protected by copyright, (b) who the copyright owner is, and (c) the year the work was first published. Unlike the registered trademark symbol ®, use of © does not require registration of the copyright.

In order to protect the copyright in the various works that might be created by a business, nonprofit, or even an independent artist, our copyright attorneys help our clients to understand copyright law, the benefits of registering your copyrights, the process, and how to enforce your rights against copyright infringement.

What is the copyright registration process?
First, the appropriate application is submitted through the electronic Copyright System (eCO). There are several different applications depending on the type of copyright we are registering:

  • Literary Works: This is content that explains, describes, or narrates a particular subject, theme, or
  • Performing Arts: This category covers everything meant to be performed for an audience, as well as some creative works that you might not traditionally think of as being “performed,” i.e., music, lyrics, sound recordings, scripts, screenplays, choreography, motion pictures, video games, etc.
  • Visual Arts: This includes artwork, illustrations, jewelry designs, fabric designs, architectural plans or drawings (but not standard individual features), photography, board games (but only the artwork and rulebook), and even websites. Within this category, there are also applications for groups of photographs and other unpublished works.
  • Motion Pictures: In addition to movies, this category also covers TV shows, video games, animations, concert and music videos, PowerPoint slide presentations, videos of sporting events, etc.
  • Photographs

In addition, there are several options for registering a group of works so that copyright registration fees don’t quickly spiral out of control. These include:

  • Groups of unpublished works
  • Short, online literary works (i.e., blog posts, social media posts, and other short, online articles)
  • Newspapers, newsletters, and other serial publications
  • Contributions to periodicals
  • Database updates
  • All of the songs on an album
  • All of the sound recordings, photos, artwork, and liner notes that are published on the same album
  •  

Finally, we will need to submit a copy of the work that is being registered to the Copyright Office. For most works, this can be done electronically, but certain types of works have special requirements.

Do I have to register my copyrights?
Technically, your copyright exists from the moment your work is created and fixed in some tangible form. But registration confers a number of important benefits, especially the right to sue for copyright infringement. If we don’t register your copyright, then we won’t be able to enforce your rights! And registration has the added benefit of making you eligible for statutory damages and attorney’s fees.

How much will it cost to register a copyright?
Copyright office fees vary depending on the type of work being registered, the number of authors, whether the work is a work made for hire, whether the application is submitted electronically, and whether the application is for a group of works. With that said, our copyright attorneys work on a flat fee basis so that our business and nonprofit clients can budget for their legal needs.