What is a copyright? According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) a copyright is defined as “a form of protection provided by U.S. law to the authors of “original works of authorship” fixed in any tangible medium of expression. The manner and medium of fixation are virtually unlimited. Creative expression may be captured in words, numbers, notes, sounds, pictures, or any other graphic or symbolic media. The subject matter of copyright is extremely broad, including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, audiovisual, and architectural works. Copyright protection is available to both published and unpublished works.”

A copyright will protect original works that includes literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works. Some of these types of work are as follows: poetry, novels, movies, songs, and software. However, facts, ideas, methods are not protected. You can see more here on what is and is not protected.

Every single day writers, editors and musicians are creating unique works to express their creativity. These works are protected the moment it’s created and fixed in a tangible form.  So, while registering your work is voluntary it is always wise take the extra step and to file your copyright.

Without a registered copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office, you have little to no chance of even bringing a lawsuit, let alone winning your case. And even if you could sue, it would cost you a fortune to prove that the copyrighted work in question is, in fact, yours and valid.

Whether you are initiating a copyright infringement lawsuit or defending one, if your work is unprotected (not registered), you have a steeper mountain to climb. Plus, finding a lawyer who is willing to fight for you without the chance of getting paid, is even more unlikely. At least with a registered copyright, you “might” be entitled to attorneys’ fees.

Copyright infringement cases truly reflect why it’s so important to take all of the necessary steps to protect what’s yours, especially if you’re a musician or author. And a copyright attorney can help you with:

  • Creating a copyrightable work.
  • Advise you about the need for proper notice.
  • Help you determine which form to use.
  • Help you decide whether you should actually register your copyrighted work with the US Copyright Office, and if so, how to go about doing it.
  • Help you in the event that someone is infringing on your copyright.

When it comes to litigation, there is never a guarantee. That especially applies if you go up against someone with deep pockets. Be that as it may, there are specific steps you can take to protect your idea. Among them are:

  1. Protect your idea at the start of your creative process. Protect your book, movie, TV treatment, or screenplay as soon as you get that idea.
  2. Get guidance on exactly what to do from a component IP/entertainment attorney.
  3. If your idea is in sufficient form, register it with the WGA. BUT, don’t be lulled into thinking that is good enough.
  4. If your idea has been expressed in a tangible and fixed format, register it with the U.S. Copyright Office.
  5. Perform several other steps…

Until next time, I’m Attorney Francine Ward helping you protect what’s yours.

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