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What does copyright protect?
The Copyright Act of 1976 protects creative expression: literary,
dramatic, and musical works; pantomimes and dance; pictorial,
graphic, and sculptural works; audio-visual works; sound recordings;
and architectural works. Essentially, any original "expression"
is eligible for copyright protection as soon as it is fixed in
a tangible form.
What is "tangible form"?
"A tangible form" includes the electronic medium. A
graphics file created in any graphics editing software program
is protected as soon as the file is saved to disk. A Web page
is protected as soon as you stop typing and save it as an HTML
file. As you can see, most of the items that you are likely to
encounter on the Internet are eligible for copyright protection,
including the text of Web pages, contents of e-mail and Usenet
messages, sound files, graphics files, and so on.
Although no longer necessary, displaying notice on copyrighted
material eliminates any uncertainty about whether it is copyrighted.
The five elements of notice are the copyright symbol, the term
"Copyright," the year of copyright, the name of the
copyright holder, and the phrase "All rights reserved."
Copyright © 2009 David M. Adler, Esq.
All rights reserved.
However, ideas, facts, titles, names, short phrases, and blank
forms are not eligible for copyright protection. The duration
of the protection afforded by copyright depends to large degree
on when the work in question was created. The question of whether
the work was created before or after Jan. 1, 1978, could have
a substantial effect on the life span of the copyright.
All current copyright law uses 1978 as the reference date for
establishing copyright expiration timelines. For work published
before 1978, the copyright expires 75 years from the date of publication
(if the copyright has been renewed since 1978). If something was
published after 1978 but has no recognized owner, the copyright
will expire on Dec. 31, 2002. If it was published between 1978
and the present, and the copyright is owned by an individual,
the copyright will last for the life of the author, plus an additional
50 years. If it was published between 1978 and the present, and
the copyright is owned by the employer of the author, the copyright
will last 75 years from the date of publication or 100 years from
the date of creation, whichever occurs first.
What material can I use?
Obviously you can use any original material you create: graphics,
audio, text, or video. You can also license material to use on
Web pages or in catalogs. But if someone else created an item,
such as a picture, and the copyright has not expired, then you
must get permission from the copyright owner for the right to
use that item. Here's how licensing works:
When you buy a clip-art CD, you also buy the license to use the
clip art. The license spells out how the image may be used and
any other conditions and restrictions.
You can freely use works deemed to be in the "public domain."
The public domain comprises all works that, for whatever reason,
are not protected by copyright. As such, they are free for all
to use without permission. Works in the public domain have certain
characteristics, such as: their copyright was lost, their copyright
has expired, they are owned or were authored by the federal government,
they have been specifically granted to the public domain, or they
are just noncopyrightable.
Why should I register my
As described earlier, a work is copyrighted as soon as it is
created, but there are some advantages to registering your work
with the U.S. Copyright Office. In order to sue for "statutory
damages" from infringement of a work, a work must be registered
with the Copyright Office. One may register after the infringement
occurs. However, one may seek statutory damages for infringement
occurring after registration.
To register a copyright, file the appropriate form with the U.S.
Copyright Office, including the payment for registration, which
costs $20 (U.S.).
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