Copyright Protection: Owning Your Work

By Katherine at Legal Language
Posted on 04/14/2010
In Intellectual Property

Copyright protection laws are more important than ever in this digital information-sharing age.

With the widespread use of the Internet, it’s easy to share your work with the world. However, it’s just as easy for people to share your work without giving credit or even claim it as their own.

Here are the basics of what work qualifies for copyright protection in the United States!

Copyright Protection: Which Works Qualify?

Copyright protection is granted to “original works of authorship” that fall under the following categories:

  • Literary works
  • Musical works
  • Dramatic works
  • Choreographic works and pantomimes
  • Pictorial, graphic and sculptural works
  • Motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  • Sound recordings
  • Architectural works

These categories are intentionally vague and somewhat all-encompassing; they can and should be seen as broad. If you wish to copyright a map, it might be categorized as a “pictorial, graphic or sculptural work.” A computer program or video game might fall under “literary works” or “audiovisual works.”

While a great deal of material can qualify for copyright protection, there are a few categories of works that do not qualify for protection, including some slogans and any familiar designs or logos.

How Long Does Copyright Protection Last?

The length of copyright protection was confusing and complicated matter before the US clarified terms in the 1976 Copyright Act.

Copyright protection usually begins as soon as the work is created and, in most cases, ends 70 years after the creator’s death. Anonymous works and works for hire have a copyright protection term of 120 years from creation or 95 years from publication — whichever is the shorter amount of time.

After copyright protection expires, works go into the public domain, where anyone can use them to their liking. Examples of works in the public domain are the works of Shakespeare and Newton’s physics formulas.

Recently, a Twitter user registered the name “publicdomain” and tweeted all of Lewis Carroll’s classic books, such as “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There,” 140 characters at a time.

Can Copyright Protection Be Transferred?

Like many other properties and possessions — copyright can be bought, sold and bequeathed.

Copyright transfers are usually made via a contract. A copyright transfer doesn’t require a physical record to be valid, but creating a contract can have legal advantages — like protecting your copyright transfer from a third party.

Copyright is a right of personal property, and as such, is subject to relevant state laws regarding ownership.

Is Copyright Protection Recognized Internationally?

Copyright protection and the laws governing it differ from country to country.

Unfortunately, there is no standardized international copyright protection law that  applies throughout the world.

However, though the laws differ in each country, many nations offer copyright protection for foreign works.

With knowledge of copyright protection in the US and abroad, you can rest assured that your original material will be protected!

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