Whereas patents protect useful inventions, like machines and processes, copyrights are designed to protect creative works, such as the written word of books and websites, as well as artwork such as illustrations, paintings, sculptures, jewelry, and photographs. Even software code itself is subject to copyright protection. A copyright does exactly what the word implies … it gives the creator the “right” to control any attempt to “copy” the created work. Yet, “Copyright” is not just one right, but rather is a bundle of rights, including the right to control: reproduction, distribution, production, live performances, display rights, the right to make derivative works, all of which fall under copyright protection, and are strong reasons for Copyright Registration.
Authors, painters, architects, filmmakers, musicians, composers … all produce work subject to copyright. So too do insurance companies, software developers, educational institutions and the teachers or professors who work there, and many other businesses who create or compile written words and/or images. The Copyright Act protects architectural design, software, graphic arts, motion pictures, sound recordings, and anything that is “fixed in a medium” that demonstrates a “modicum of creativity”.
Copyright registration may seem simple, but you should hire a copyright attorney to guide you through this process. Throughout the process, an attorney may be able to avoid pitfalls that someone less experienced might not see. There are a number of extra-statutory protections that only apply if certain conditions are met, but meeting those conditions may be complex and at times confusing. An attorney is helpful when preparing your Copyright Application for Registration, and getting proper advice in advance is much better than trying to do this on your own.
Who holds a particular copyright on a particular work of intellectual property is not always as straightforward as it seems.
The actual human person who creates the copyrighted work is the initial owner of the work. Copyrights can be transferred, either licensed or assigned, from one person to another, and specific steps need to be followed. If you are thinking about hiring someone to create something that might be subject to copyright protection, it is a good idea to iron out the transfer of ownership issues before work begins and before any money changes hands. Otherwise, there can be problems regarding your ownership of the Copyright in the work.
The Copyright Lawyers at Hankin Patent Law can advise you on best practices for protecting your creativity from friends and foes. When hiring someone that is not a direct employee, it is essential to have a written agreement that has a “Work Made For Hire” clause. This must be in writing and must be signed in advance of the creation of the work. This goes for software, websites, books, any sort of content for which a Client is hiring a ghostwriter or scrivener or anyone who will be doing the writing besides the Client themselves. Unless you, yourself, are a copyright lawyer, it would be best to consult with one of the Copyright Lawyers at Hankin Patent Law to make sure that you document the ownership correctly and have them prepare for you a proper Assignment of your Copyright Registration.
The framers of the United States Constitution understood that, without assurances of control over the copying of their work, creative artists would have little incentive to create. Accordingly, they authorized Congress to enact laws protecting copyrights and gave Congress the power to determine the length of copyright protection. Over time, Congress has enacted new laws that extended the time, so calculating the length of a copyright term has gotten quite complicated. Generally speaking, the term of copyright protection lasts from the date of creation to 70 years after the author has died. The idea behind this term is that the author, their children, and even their grandchildren, will gain the benefit of the author’s work. However, because there have been so many changes to how long a copyright lasts, calculating the term depends on things like when the work was created, if and when the work was published, if when the work was first published there were certain renewals and registration procedures followed, were notification procedures followed, and whether the work was a “work made for hire”.
For more information, one may consult the website of the Copyright Office: https://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-duration.html which states:
How long does a copyright last?
The term of copyright for a particular work depends on several factors, including whether it has been published, and, if so, the date of first publication. As a general rule, for works created after January 1, 1978, copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years. For an anonymous work, a pseudonymous work, or a work made for hire, the copyright endures for a term of 95 years from the year of its first publication or a term of 120 years from the year of its creation, whichever expires first. For works first published prior to 1978, the term will vary depending on several factors. To determine the length of copyright protection for a particular work, consult chapter 3 of the Copyright Act (title 17 of the United States Code). More information on the term of copyright can be found in Circular 15a, Duration of Copyright, and Circular 1, Copyright Basics.
Do I have to renew my copyright?
No. Works created on or after January 1, 1978, are not subject to renewal registration. As to works published or registered prior to January 1, 1978, renewal registration is optional after 28 years but does provide certain legal advantages. For information on how to file a renewal application as well as the legal benefit for doing so, see Circular 15, Renewal of Copyright, and Circular 15a, Duration of Copyright.
Of course, at this point in time, there are no works that were created under the 1909 Copyright Statute that have not either been renewed or not renewed, so there no longer is a need for any Copyright Lawyers or Clients to worry about filing Copyright Renewals.
Hankin Patent Law has extensive experience not only in filing and obtaining copyright protection for our Clients, but also enforcing and defending our clients with respect to claims of copyright infringement. We can work with you to create an efficient system for obtaining copyright protection for your creative expressions or, if preferred, we can handle all aspects of obtaining copyright protection on your behalf. We can also craft and establish systems for policing and enforcing your copyrighted materials.
Marc E. Hankin has represented world-renowned artist John Nava (who paints in the style of the Old Masters) in retaining the copyright to his work on the cycle of tapestries entitled the Communion of Saints that adorn the inside walls of the nave of the Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral built by the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, as well as in other related and unrelated matters.
Unlike a patent, a filing is not necessary to create a copyright. Copyright is established as soon as a work is fixed in a tangible medium. Filing a copyright application with the government is required, however, to enforce your copyright in federal court, and the earlier the filing, the more statutory rights you may be entitled to receive.
Defending copyrighted works against infringement can be one of the most difficult areas of Intellectual Property law. At Hankin Patent Law, we have successfully represented many clients in enforcing their copyrights and defending against charges of infringement. Marc Hankin and the other Copyright Lawyers at Hankin Patent Law, APC have successfully represented a Korean conglomerate against several infringers over their copyrighted textile patterns. Additionally, Mr. Hankin has substantial experience dealing with copyright issues facing the audio and video industries.
For information on how Hankin Patent Law can help you file or protect your copyrighted materials, please contact us today.