Copyright laws protect the creators of original works by giving them certain exclusive rights over their work. In general, copyright owners enjoy the right to display or perform the work, distribute the work, create derivative works, and reproduce the work. The copyright owner also has the right to give others some or all of these rights by granting a copyright license or transferring ownership of the copyright completely.
Previously, there were several requirements in order to gain copyright protection, which included registration with the U.S. Copyright Office, publication of the work, and the inclusion of a notice of copyright on the work. Under current U.S. law, these previous requirements have simply become "formalities," but can still be beneficial in protecting your copyright, especially against copyright infringement. For instance, defendants in an infringement suit cannot claim they didn't know about the copyright if it indeed was registered.
Are There Any Requirements for Copyrighted Works?
While most requirements have become optional, there are still a few criteria that a work must meet in order to be eligible for copyright protection. For example, works must fall into a certain categories of works that are "original works of authorship." These categories include literary, musical, or dramatic works, sound recordings, movies, pictorial or graphic works, and architectural works. Another requirement for the work is that it is in a "fixed in a tangible form." This means that it must be in a format that can be perceived or reproduced, such as a painting on canvas or song lyrics on a piece of paper.
Please keep in mind that some things that do not fall within a category of copyrightable works, could be protected under other types of intellectual property laws. For example, names, symbols, and slogans could be eligible for trademark protection. And, if you discover a new or useful process or machine, you may be able to get protect your work under patent laws.
How Do Practicing Formalities Help?
As previously stated above, things that were required under the Copyright Act of 1909 are no longer required for federal copyright protection; but they still provide various benefits in certain situations. Publication is one example of a previously required act that can still help the copyright owner.
Publication is basically defined as distributing copies or phonorecords of a work to the public. The distribution can be in the form of a sale or other transfer of ownership, as well as by lease, lending, or renting. If a work is performed or displayed publicly, it is not considered published; however, the offer to distribute phonorecords or copies to a group of people for the purpose of further public display, public performance, or distribution does constitute a publication.
The year of publication can also determine the duration of copyright protection for works made for hire or for works that anonymous or pseudonymous (when the identity of the author is not in the Copyright Office's records). In addition, when a work is published it can have a notice of copyright, which is a helpful tool in letting the public know that the work is copyrighted. As an added note, while copyright notices are no longer required, works published before March 1, 1989 are required to have the notice or risk losing their copyright protections.
Getting Legal Help
If you have questions about publication or you're interested in finding out if your work can be copyrighted or licensed, you may want to contact an experienced intellectual property attorney in your area.
For more information and resources related to this topic, please visit FindLaw's section on Copyrights.