Intellectual Property Law

Copyright Overview

What is a copyright?

A copyright secures intangible property rights for individuals and businesses and aids in the protection of artistic and creative efforts. (What rights do they have- right to sell, license, reproduce). Copyright law protects a work if it is original and expressed in a tangible medium. Most often, the tangible medium is a piece of paper or computer word processing program but also includes other forms of expression such as choreography and sound recordings. Traditionally, the expression of ideas, rather than the ideas themselves, are protected (*see side note below). The copyrighted work need not be novel or useful, only original.

The following list includes examples of tangible works that are commonly granted copyright protection:

  • Literary works, including novels, poems, news articles, blog posts
  • Musical works, including musical arrangements and lyrics

  • Sound recordings, including podcasts

  • Dramatic works, such as plays or musicals

  • Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works (works of art)

  • Motion pictures and other audiovisual works

  • Choreographic works, including pantomime

  • Websites and any original content they contain, including text, audio files, graphics, and videos

  • Architectural and Industrial Design

  • Some elements of fashion design (original prints/patterns and distinct color schemes used on apparel or accessories)

What rights are granted to a copyright owner?

If the work qualifies for copyright protection, the owner will be offered the following exclusive ownership rights:

  • To reproduce the work (the right to make copies)
  • To prepare derivative works (the right to create new works based on the original)
  • To distribute copies (this includes the right to sell and/or distribute copies to the public)
  • To perform the work
  • To display the work publicly

What are the benefits of registering a copyright?

The answer is simple. Registration affords extra protection including :

  • The copyright must be registered with U.S. Copyright Office before you can sue someone in court for infringement. This is probably the biggest benefit of registration. Although your rights in a work or idea are immediate once it is put in tangible form, you cannot sue for copyright infringement unless the copyright has been registered with U.S. Copyright Office first.
  • Registration will maximize the amount of damages you can recover in the event of infringement or improper use. If you register the copyright within the first 90 days of publication or before the infringement occurs, you will be able to recover attorney’s fees and statutory damages. Statutory damages, not to exceed $150,000.00 per infringement, are provided for under the Copyright Act. In the absence of registration, the copyright holder can only recover actual damages. Actual damages are based on the harm caused to the copyright holder and may be minimal and/or difficult to establish and define. The burden rests on the shoulders of the copyright holder (the plaintiff) to prove the value and scope of actual damages.

  • Registration provides proof of ownership. In the event someone infringes or takes your work, it is your burden as the plaintiff to prove that you actually own the work. Your registration will provide such proof and allow you to avoid a complex and costly battle to substantiate ownership.

  • Notice of your copyrighted work will be available to the public. The U.S. Copyright Office will add your copyrighted work to their searchable database. This notice will be of assistance in the event that someone should infringe upon your work and claim “ innocent infringement” as a defense.


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