When you need a copyright.

Upon completion of an original creation, legally speaking, your work is protected by copyright.  Copyright is a form of legal protection for original works, published and unpublished.  The real question is when to REGISTER a copyright?

If you have any desire to protect yourself as the undoubtable writer of any work produced that falls in the category of writing, such as poetry, books, songs, movies, computer software, or architectural design, then you need to register your copyright.  Not doing so will make it far more difficult for you to receive statutory damages and attorney’s fees in the event someone infringes on your work by using all, or part of it, without your permission.

Landmark cases in the area of copyright infringement you may be aware of include AP v Fairey, where an AP owned photograph was thought used by artist Shephard Fairey to design the iconic Hope portrait of President Barak Obama.

Over the years there have many cases of musical artists litigating over Copyright Infringement.  Notoriously Vanilla Ice v. Queen/David Bowie over the song “Ice Baby,” which settled out of court, and Led Zepplin v. Spirit (Randy Craig Trust) over allegedly stolen riffs in the most played song on FM radio, “Stairway to Heaven.”

The case you may not be familiar with was decided in 2019 and provides the most up-to-date guidance, ruling on who and when it’s time to file for copyright registration to be protected from infringement.  In Fourth Estate v Wallstreet it was decided that merely applying for copyright is not enough to protect you from damages caused by others using your work without permission.  You must have the certificate in hand, showing your work as officially registered with the Copyright Office.

While the online registration process is changing with the technical modernization of this government office, it still can be a time-consuming process.  Furthermore, there are legal specifics of how you register, if submitted incorrectly, can inhibit your ability to seek damages.

Registering your copyright before your work is used without your permission will make it easier for you to litigate for statutory damages and attorney’s fees with an Infringement Action.  It will also create Evidence of Validity as a basic level of proof that the work is yours.  Last, registering your copyright creates a public record that can be searched, naming you as the copyright owner, enabling people who wish to license your work to find you.

There are four main categories of things that can be protected by copyright.

  1. Written Works – books, blogs, articles, and screenplays
  2. Musical and Dramatic Works – songs, plays, and choreography
  3. Artistic Works – paintings, photographs, and sculptures
  4. Software – computer systems and application programs

Areas of work not covered by copyright include names, logos, and phrases, which are generally protected by trademarks. Also, ideas that are in formation and not yet produced cannot be covered by copyright.

I’m Francine D. Ward, Attorney-at-Law, helping YOU stay on the legal side of creative expression. Follow me on social media, and subscribe to my blog for weekly legal updates.

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Francine D. Ward
Attorney-At-Law, Author, Speaker

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