Copyrights are an important area of law not only for authors and artists, but also for society in general. They provide protection for authors and artists by giving them exclusive rights over their original works. Copyright laws also benefit society by encouraging authors and artists to create new works, which is important to enriching our culture.
While beneficial, copyrights can also be a complicated area of law that most non-attorneys have a difficult time understanding. Whether you would like to copyright your original work or find out if you can legally use someone else's work, it's a good idea to seek out legal help to make sure that you are complying with all applicable laws. A copyright attorney, or an intellectual property lawyer in general, will be well versed in copyright laws and can help you in a variety of ways, such as evaluating your situation and recommending the proper steps to take to reach your goals.
Copyrights at a Glance
A copyright is a protection provided to creators of original works, which prevents others from copying or benefiting financially from the work. These works must be in fixed tangible form, meaning that the work must actually exist in a way that is apparent to others. For example, if you decide to write a particular story, it can only be copyrighted once the story is on paper (or online), not when it is just in your head. The reason for this stems from the fact that ideas, facts, and concepts cannot be copyrighted; as a practical matter, there's no way to prove that someone conceived an idea if they failed to record it.
Some examples of works that can be copyrighted include sound recordings, movies, photographs, paintings, literary works, musical works, live performances, and software. A copyright provides the copyright owner with various exclusive rights which include performing or displaying the work publicly, creating derivative works, reproducing the work, and distributing copies of the work.
Please keep in mind that other forms of intellectual property protection -- such as patents and trademarks -- may be available for certain things that do not qualify for copyright protection. A trademark is an identifiable symbol or package, for instance, that is strongly associated with a brand. A patent, meanwhile, is a novel invention or process. A copyright attorney can help you determine if your work qualifies for a copyright, or if it may qualify for another form of intellectual property protection.
How a Copyright Attorney Can Help
If you're thinking about registering your work with the U.S. Copyright Office, a copyright attorney can guide you through every step of the process, including the preparation and submission of all necessary materials to obtain a copyright. Or, if you have been approached by others who would like to use your work, a copyright attorney will evaluate and explain your options and take action to ensure that your rights and interests are protected by negotiating on your behalf, drafting any necessary licensing agreements, and any other issues related to the transferring or licensing of your copyright.
Alternatively, if you're trying to determine whether you can use someone else's work, a copyright attorney can help ensure that you don't violate a copyright owner's rights related to the material, which is called copyright infringement. In the event of a lawsuit (regardless of which side you are on), representation by an experienced copyright attorney is critical to protecting your legal rights and financial interests.
Finding a Copyright Attorney
If you're interested in talking to an attorney to learn more about acquiring a copyright, protecting your currently copyrighted work, or legally using another person's work, you should contact an intellectual property lawyer in your area.
For more information and resources related to copyrights and other types of intellectual property, you can visit FindLaw's Intellectual Property section.