Copyright is legal protection against copying or commercially exploiting intellectual property without the creator or the copyright holder's permission. It isn't only for literature and works of art — software, photography, music, video, film and architectural drawings can also be copyrighted.
To protect yourself — whether you're the creator or user — you'll need a three-part approach:
- For concrete copyright protection, register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office.
- Employees who create a work on the job or independent contractors creating work qualifying as "work for hire" do not own copyright; the employer does.
- Copyright gives the owner exclusive rights to copy and distribute the work, to create adaptations of it, and to perform or display it; all others must ask permission.
Get the copyright lowdownWhether you want to copyright your work or use somebody else's, you need to know the rules. Many business owners are what a copyright really is, who can claim copyright, how to properly secure a copyright and other key issues.
guide to Copyright Basics from the U.S. Copyright Office has answers to all common copyright questions. The basic copyright registration fee is $45.
Know whether it's protectedCheck the copyright status of intellectual works, and look for name changes and transfers of ownership.
U.S. Copyright Office offers three copyright-search databases dating back to 1978.
Step-by-step registration proceduresCopyright registration is a legal formality that establishes a public record of the basic facts of your copyright.
advantages to encourage copyright owners to register. The Copyright Office has complete registration details for different types of works.
Ask before usingA letter asking permission to use copyrighted material can be short and sweet, but it must cover certain basics about how the work will be used.
Give permission to othersMake sure you put in writing all the details — payment, restrictions on location, defined use, credit given, purpose and more — when someone wants to use your copyrighted work.
Notify unauthorized usersLet someone know when they've used your work without permission — that's why you registered copyright in the first place.
- Copyrights don't protect names, phrases, slogan or logos — for this, you'll need to conduct a trademark search and register a trademark.
- Violations of copyright often involve use for commercial gain.
- The copyright owner may request a fee, especially if the work will be used for commercial purposes.
- Beware of the "fair use" rule of copyright; its provisions are limited.
- Works in the public domain require no permission before use.