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How to Secure a Copyright

When the Copyright Act of 1976 was the law that governed copyrights, notice of copyright was required to secure a copyright. However, this requirement was eliminated when the United States adhered to the Berne Convention (effective March 1, 1989). Under the current laws of the U.S., securing a copyright doesn't require publication, registration, or any other action in the U.S. Copyright Office. Instead, copyright protection is secured automatically upon the creation of a work.

Copyright protection is available to original works of authorship, such as musical works, sound recordings, photographs, literary works, movies, television, and software. The owner of a copyright has certain exclusive rights, such as selling the work, performing the work publicly, reproducing the work, and creating derivative works. The copyright owner can also transfer ownership of the work, whether by complete transfer or by granting a license. This article provides information about how to secure a copyright and the advantages of registeration with the Copyright Office.

Securing Copyright Protection

As previously mentioned, copyright protection over a particular work is secured automatically when the work is created. For copyright purposes, a work is "created" when it is "fixed" into a physical form for the first time. A work is considered to be in a "physical form" when it can be perceived by others. For works that can be read or visually perceived (directly or with the help of a device or machine), the work is defined as being fixed in a "copy." Examples of material objects that are considered copies are books, film, sheet music, or manuscripts. Material objects that embody fixations of sound, such as CDs, LPs, or digital music files, are known as "phonorecords."

Please note that copyright law only covers the manner or form in which ideas or information or ideas have been manifested. Thus, any ideas, concepts, techniques, or facts cannot be copyrighted. This means that a general idea – such as a super-human character – cannot be copyrighted (but Superman, on the other hand, is an original work that is eligible for copyright protection).

Advantages of Copyright Registration

While registering with the U.S. Copyright Office is not necessary to secure a copyright, it does have certain advantages. First, copyright registration provides the public with a record of your copyright claim, which can be beneficial if anyone infringes on your copyright. In addition, in order for a copyright owner to file a copyright infringement lawsuit in court, the copyright must be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. Also, a copyright owner who registers his or her copyright before an infringement occurs or within three months of publishing the work may recover statutory fees and attorneys' fees if there is a lawsuit.

In addition to these advantages, registering a copyright is a fairly easy and straightforward process. An application for copyright registration consists of three basic elements: the application form, a non-returnable "deposit" of a copy of your work, and a non-refundable filing fee. Registration is best done through the electronic Copyright Office (eCO), as it gives you the ability to track the status of copyright registration, has a lower filing fee, and has a quicker processing time.

Getting Legal Help

If you would like to find out more about how to secure a copyright, or have other questions related to copyright law, you may want to contact an experienced intellectual property attorney in your area.

For more information and resources related to this topic, as well as other types of intellectual property, you can visit FindLaw's section on Intellectual Property.

Next Steps
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