Whenever I give a talk on online marketing law, social media law, or intellectual property law, the first question I try to answer (and many times am asked), is exactly what is a copyright? The U.S. Copyright Office describes copyright as “a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression” covering both published and unpublished works. To be more specific, copyrights typically cover artistic works such as drawings, literature, paintings, and photos. When looking at the online world, it covers areas such as blog postings, music, photos, software, website content, and videos.
To get a copyright, one only has to put the idea to paper (or in our modern age, on your computer, laptop, iPad, etc) – for instance, as soon as I wrote down this blog post, I had a copyright in this blog post. The picture attached to it is one that I took – and I received a copyright in that photo as soon as I took it. I did not have to register anything, I did not have to pay anything for the copyright, I did not have to do anything except have the idea and put it in a tangible form (i.e. take the photo, write the blog post, sing the song). However, in many cases, I may want to register the copyright to gain additional rights in the work and to help prove the work is mine.
To register a work that I have created, I have to file with the U.S. Copyright Office. Depending on what I am registering, I may have different forms or different filing costs. In most cases, it costs around $35.00 (although the fees may be more) and can be done online. Once I have registered my work (for instance lets say, this blog post), I have additional statutory damages I can claim. That means that if someone uses my blog post without permission (aka commits copyright infringement), I can get higher damages in a court case than I could if the work was not registered. In addition, in many cases, I am entitled to attorney fees making my case my appealing to attorneys to take.
To summarize – a copyright is a right in an authored work that is put into some type of tangible form (a book, a photo, a video, a website). You get a copyright in the authored work as soon as you put it into tangible form – you do not need to register it to have a copyright. However, you may want to register it as it may be difficult to prove the work is yours (even if you send yourself a “Poor man’s copyright version”) if you do not register it and registration gives you rights to additional damages.
If you have questions about whether a work you have created has a copyright on it or whether you should register the copyright, contact your Denver business attorney, Elizabeth Lewis today at 720-258-6647 or Elizabeth.Lewis at eclewis.com.