Copyright Law: Six Common Questions and Answers

Cari Rincker Intellectual Property Leave a Comment

Intellectual property law is confusing, to say the least.  Trademarks, copyrights, patents, trade secrets – oftentimes attorneys themselves can hardly distinguish between these concepts.  In an attempt to chip away at the mystery that is intellectual property, this blog answers six common questions about copyright law.

  1. What kind of work can be copyrighted?

Copyright law protects works of authorship that are literary, dramatic, musical, or artistic in nature.  It applies to poetry, stories, novels, articles, movies, photographs, videos, songs, computer software, architecture, and other similar types of work.  To be eligible for copyright protection, a work of authorship must be original, i.e., independently created, and fixed in a tangible medium of expression, i.e., recorded on paper or saved electronically.

  1. What does copyright protection do?

If your work has copyright protection, it means you have the exclusive right to reproduce the work, to distribute it for sale, to perform it, and to sell licenses that others may use to either reproduce the work or make a derivative product of the work for financial gain. If someone else reproduces your copyrighted work without permission, they have infringed on your copyright and may be subject to certain legal consequences.

  1. How does a work of authorship become copyrighted?

A work of authorship is protected by copyright law as soon as it is “fixed,” there is no other requirement.  The author of the work is the default owner of the copyright; however, it is possible for the author to enter into an agreement that transfers copyright ownership to someone else.

  1. Does a work of authorship need the copyright symbol in order to be protected?

No, it is not necessary to attach the copyright symbol or any other form of copyright notice to a work in order for it to be protected under copyright law.  However, including such notice on your work is useful because it prevents any potential copyright infringer from claiming that they are an “innocent” infringer under copyright law.  To ensure your work of authorship carries proper copyright notice, include either the copyright symbol (©) or the word “Copyright,” the name of the copyright owner, and the year of publication of the copyrighted work.

  1. Do I need to register my work with the U.S. copyright office?

No, it is not necessary to register your work with the U.S. copyright office in order for it to be protected under copyright law.  However, copyright registration comes with benefits:

  • It allows you to file an infringement action to enforce your copyright;
  • It allows you to recover statutory damages for infringement;
  • It serves as evidence that your copyright is valid; and
  • It puts others on notice that your work is protected by copyright.

If you chose to register your work of authorship, you can do so by submitting an application, copies of your work, and a fee ranging from $45 to $125 to the U.S. Copyright Office.  It takes approximately three months for a copyright to be registered.

  1. What are the penalties for copyright infringement?

If a copyrighted work is registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, an infringer can owe the copyright owner statutory penalties ranging from $750 to $30,000 for each work of authorship.  If the infringement is willful, the penalties can be as high as $150,000 per work.  If the infringement is innocent, the penalties can be as low as $250 per work.  If a copyrighted work is not registered, an infringer will still owe the copyright owner any damages or lost profits caused by the infringement.

If you are looking for assistance with an intellectual property issue, contact our law office and schedule a consultation.


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