United States law offers protection from duplication through copyright regulation to those who create “original works.” While there are many items that fall under the umbrella of this protection, certain guidelines must be met in order to gain the full protection of the law. Works of visual art, musical recordings, video or sound broadcasts and literary works are all examples of things that may be copyrighted. Creations need not be published in order to qualify, though applying for a registered copyright is an imperative step toward complete legal protection.
The current law, established by the Copyright Act of 1976, provides for automatic protection the moment a work is created. No written notice is required. Once an item is in tangible form, it is considered the property of the owner and may not be duplicated or used for monetary gain by another person or entity.
Usually, the creator owns rights to the work, but there are several exceptions to that standard. Independent contractors often create parts of a larger literary work, such as an article that becomes a piece of a magazine or an essay published in an anthology. In any cases where work is considered “made for hire,” it becomes property of the hiring person or company. In such instances, the employer has full rights to the copyright. Other occasions when this may occur include:
- A translation
- Part of a film or screenplay
- A compilation
- An atlas
- An instructional manual or text
- A test or answer key for a test
- Supplementary material, such as an introduction, afterword, editorial note, appendix, etc.
In other cases, employees may produce innovative work during employment for a company. These creations are considered the intellectual property of the employer, who reserves the copyright to all designs.
Copyrights may sometimes be owned jointly. This occurs most often when two authors contribute to a written work with the intention of creating an inseparable finished product. Both authors share the ownership of the copyright and the privilege of equal profit regarding any proceeds the work may bring in.
In order to legally defend a copyright, owners must register it with the U.S. Copyright Office. Statutory damages and attorney fees can only be awarded in cases of a registered copyright violation. Registration must be completed within three months of the first publication or before any infringements occur in order for damages to be awarded.
Copyright Owner’s Rights
Owning a copyright affords certain rights by law:
- The right to make duplications
- The right to distribute or sell copies
- The right to display or perform the work in a public setting
- The right to adapt or make changes to the original
These claims also indicate that the owner has full freedom to profit from the sale, display or other utilization of the copyrighted material.
Transferring a Copyright
Ownership may be sold or transferred at any time during the life of the copyright using a variety of methods. Typically, sale or assignment happens in one of four ways:
- Assignment or sale transfers some or all of the rights of ownership, usually for a predetermined amount of compensation. In order to publish a book or work of literature, the owner often sells the copyright to the publishing company in exchange for a contract and monetary compensation.
- Transfer at death reassigns ownership when an owner dies with a valid will naming a beneficiary. If no will exists, laws dictating intestate succession apply.
- Mortgage temporarily transfers the interest in the copyright to another as security for a loan or other debt.
- Involuntary transfer usually occurs by court order during a divorce, bankruptcy or foreclosure.
Owners retain the right to publish, duplicate, defend, sell and monetize their copyrighted work as long as the copyright is in effect.
The content on our website is only meant to provide general information and is not legal advice. We make our best efforts to make sure the information is accurate, but we cannot guarantee it. Do not rely on the content as legal advice. For assistance with legal problems or for a legal inquiry please contact you attorney.