Copyrights are used to protect your original creative works. The most common forms of copyrighted materials are movies, books, and music. Copyright can also protect other creative works such as specific computer code. While you automatically get copyright protection without registration, registration offers important benefits such as establishing ownership. Find out more
Do you have a project relating to your copyrights?
Do you have a question about copyrights?
Looking for a copyrights expert? Search Directory
Find legal, IP, technology and investment professionals worldwide.
Typically, you can copyright literary and artistic works that are unique, original, and to which you can claim authorship. Some examples are:
- Written materials such as novels, poems, plays
- Website Content
- Computer software
- Video games
- Music (including sheet music, recorded musical performances)
- Architectural designs
To be afforded copyright protection, a work must be both creative and fixed in a tangible medium. Ideas, facts, and processes are not eligible for copyright protection, even if the author expends time and efforts into bringing them to light.
This is because copyright protects the form of expression, not the subject matter of the work. For example, anyone is entitled to write a novel about a woman’s love affairs set during the American Civil War. However, they may run into difficulties if they call that woman “Scarlett O’Hara” and have her fight to keep a house called “Tara. That would just be borrowing too much from Margaret Mitchell’s’ original work “Gone with the Wind.” Until that work falls into the public domain, permission should be obtained prior to using more than a fair use portion from it.
How to protect your copyright:
While copyright is automatic assuming you can prove original authorship, these simple steps will help ensure that your copyright is protected and that you can act in the event of infringement.
1. Keep any supporting evidence of the process of creation. For example, if you can prove the evolution of ideas through notes, images, sketches or other means, this will help strengthen any case you may have to bring.
2. If the person creating the work is not an employee, your ownership of the person’s work is not automatic. In addition, in some jurisdictions, your ownership may not be automatic even where the person creating the work is your employee (for example, if your employment agreement is not properly drafted). This is one area where you may want consult an attorney in the jurisdiction where the work is being created. For freelancers and other contractors, you should secure ‘work made for hire’ or ‘copyright transfer’ agreements as appropriate and make sure you retain all versions of the milestones, drafts and prototypes you receive from them.
3. Place a copyright notice next to all work designs that are published. This will make it clear to potential infringers that you take infringement seriously, and will also allow you to recover statutory damages and prevent any defense from infringers that they had no way of knowing the work was copyrighted.
4. Register your copyright. In some jurisdictions, you can often do this using an online copyright register such as http://copyright.gov/eco/ (US). Law firms in many jurisdictions may also offer a similar service.
5. Add a visible watermark to your actual or digital images.
6. Contact the host or registrant of any publications or websites that contain material you believe infringes your copyright.
Furthermore, here are some additional tips relating specifically to online copyright.
1. Only upload low-resolution images and low quality versions of sound recordings and videos, and offer high quality versions for purchase.
2. Use digital video fingerprinting to hide information in music or films and enable you to track them.
3. Use resources like copyscape.com to find websites using your content.
Finally, in the US there is a preregistration process available to works that are being prepared for publication and that have a history of being infringed upon before publication. This is often the case for movies and video games (as many people collaborate to their creation, the risk of unauthorized disclosure prior to the release increases). In the US, a person who has preregistered a work must register that work within one month after the copyright owner becomes aware of infringement, and no later than three months after the work is first published.
Note: While automatic copyright on proof of authorship and registration (US) are steps you can take yourself, things get trickier when you start noticing infringements and believe those are hurting your business, or when your work is accused of infringing upon the work of others. At that stage, the help of an attorney becomes essential.
Common copyright mistakes:
1.Using the so-called “Poor Man’s Copyright” (a method sometimes used to protect copyrights in which a creator mails the work to itself through the postal service) as a substitute to registration in relevant jurisdictions. This is NOT considered valid protection in many jurisdictions.
2. Assuming registration is unnecessary (US). While some people wait until they are victims of infringement before proceeding with registration, this delay may reduce the amount of damages that are ultimately awarded as a result of the infringement. In the US, timely registration entitles the copyright holder to statutory damages.
3. Believing copyright clearance extends to rights of privacy (or right to likeness). Copyright will protect a work of authorship such as a drawing or photograph but only as to the artistic elements featured in the work. The likeness of a person’s image or voice are not protected under copyright. These are afforded protection under rights of privacy. This means, for example, that when you use a person’s photograph, you will need permission both from the photographer and from the person featured in the photograph (in the former case as part of the photographer’s copyright over the photograph, in the latter as part of the subject’s privacy rights).
4. Relying on a mere citation of the author to demonstrate fair use when borrowing from a preexisting work.
Most countries allow for citation of a third party work and require in such case that credit should be given to the original author. But the mere fact of citing the author is not sufficient in itself to demonstrate fair use. Whether use is fair is determined by courts on a case-by-case basis. The use is not considered fair when large portions of the work are borrowed or when the bits borrowed constitute a core part of the work. So if you use third party copyrighted material, either obtain permission from the copyright holder or make sure that:
A substantial part of the end-work is original to you,
The bits borrowed are small and do not constitute core aspects of the original work,
Any monetization or revenue generated from the exploitation of your work is not mainly driven by the excerpts you borrowed from the third party work, and
No bits of musical compositions or recordings are used in your work (fair use is very difficult to prove in relation to music pieces).
Do you have a question about copyright? Post it here.