What is a copyright and who can claim it?
Copyrights give exclusive legal rights to an author or the author's assignee to reproduce, distribute, perform, display and prepare derivative works of any original work of authorship. Original works of authorship include literary, dramatic and artistic works, architecture and ornamental designs. Copyright protection is automatic the moment your original work of authorship is fixed in tangible form such as by a writing, recording, drawing or even in computer code.
Copyrights belong to the author who created the work. If you are the only author, then you will be listed as the sole owner. If you created a single work with others with the intent of merging your contributions as inseparable, you and the other authors will be considered joint authors and have an indivisible interest in the work as a whole. By contrast, if you and multiple authors contribute to a collective work such as a magazine or a book of photographs, each author's individual contribution is separate and distinct from the other authors of the collective work.
Copyright law works differently for “works made for hire”. A work made for hire is created by an employee as part of the employee's regular duties or created pursuant to a written agreement for a work made for hire. Therefore, if you create works on a “made for hire” basis, the copyright author will be the party that hired or contracted with you.
What are my rights under copyrights?
Copyrights will give you, as the author, the exclusive right to reproduce your work and distribute copies to the public through sale or other transfer of ownership or by rental, leasing or licensing. You (and your licensee, if you have one) will have the exclusive right to publicly perform the work or display the work.
Placing a copyright notice on or in your work may be helpful in notifying the public that you, as a copyright owner, are claiming ownership of the work. This can be done through the copyright symbol or the word copyright, the name of the copyright owner and year of first publication. Keep in mind that a copyright notice is not a substitute for registration, but can avoid an “innocent infringer” defense if you ever need to sue for copyright infringement.
Although registering your work is not mandatory, registration through the Copyright Office is necessary to enforce your copyright rights through litigation. Furthermore, you can only obtain statutory damages (of up to $150,000 per work) and recover your attorneys' fees if you registered before the infringement occurred or within 3 months of first publication. Registration will also allow you to establish a record with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection for protection against the importation of infringing copies.
How long will my copyright last?
Copyrights for work created on or after January 1, 1978 will last for the duration of your life plus 70 years post-death. Copyrights for joint work with multiple authors will last for 70 years after the death of the last surviving author. Copyrights for anonymous works will last for 95 years of publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter.
How to register
You can apply for registration of your copyrighted material at https://www.copyright.gov/. However, in order to avoid mistakes that might cost you dearly in the future and risk losing your IP rights, we highly recommend that you consult with an experienced IP lawyer prior to application. Res Nova Law attorneys can help you with that or we can refer you on if it's not a good fit.