Updated: Feb 11
You may know all about copyrights by now if you’ve been following my blog/newsletters. But lately, I’ve been getting a lot of questions about some fundamental aspects of copyright protection. It may be a good time for a copyright law refresher / FAQs.
First off, you cannot have a copyright over an idea. An idea needs to be transferred onto a tangible medium in order to get copyright protection.
Copyright protection in the United States is automatic and vests immediately after you’ve created something.
Copyright registration is required if you want to enforce your rights against someone who is copying your work. If you register the copyright within 3 months of creating the work, you can claim and collect attorneys’ fees from the person/party who copied your work.
You can own copyright in, for example, songs, movies, videos, paintings, artworks, blogs, novels/books, photographs, jewelry designs, fabric designs, architectural works etc.
The creator of a work is known as the author and owner under the copyright law.
If you hire someone as an employee or an independent contractor and they create a copyrightable work, the work will be considered a work for hire and you will be considered an author/owner. It is a good idea to have an agreement in writing to show the employer - employee and employer - independent contractor relationship and transferring ownership to employer.
A copyright owner has the right to reproduce copies of the creative work, prepare derivative works, sell copies of the work, and perform/display the work publicly.
Copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years, or in the case of a work for hire, 95 years from the date of first publication or 120 years from the date of creation, whichever comes first.
It is a common misconception that you can use an image, video, or other work without permission as long as you give attribution or credit to the author/owner. Just because a work is displayed on the internet does not mean it is free for use. You should ideally reach out to the author of the work and seek permission to use it.
There are many websites that offer works under a creative commons license. Creative commons licenses allow free uses that would otherwise require obtaining permission or licensing. Check for watermarks on images. If there is a watermark, the work is not free!
There are 6 types of creative commons licenses:
Attribution - allows any use provided the author is credited.
Attribution/Sharealike - any use provided you allow others to make any use of your work and the author is credited.
Attribution/No derivative works - allows any commercial/non-commercial use provided the work is reproduced in whole and the author is credited.
Attribution/Non-commercial - any non-commercial use of work provided the author is credited.
Attribution/Non-commercial/sharealike - allows any non-commercial use of the work provided the work is attributed and others can make any use of your work.
Attribution/Non-commercial/no derivatives - any non-commercial use that reproduces the original work as a whole, and the original author is credited.
So there you have it. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me.
I started my own firm, Nupur Shah Law, specifically designed to educate and provide creative legal solutions to startups, entrepreneurs, and small to mid-sized businesses. I advise clients on intellectual property portfolio creation, development, registration, management and enforcement. I also advise clients on business formations and design ironclad contracts to help protect their business.
I strive to obtain a comprehensive understanding of my clients’ business and provide customized IP counseling and ongoing business advice.