This is Dial-Law on copyrights. If you are a writer, composer,
artist, photographer or other creator of original works, your rights are
protected under the Federal Copyright Act of 1976.
Copyright protection is available to you for any original work or
authorship which fixed in a tangible medium, such as on paper, canvas,
records, tapes, photo negatives, in clay or metal, or in other tangible
ways which can be communicated to another. Examples include but are not
limited to: literary works such as books, poems or advertising; musical
works, including any words, dramatic works, including any music;
choreographic works and pantomimes; pictorial, graphic and sculptural
works; motion picture and other audio-visual works; computer software;
and sound recording.
Copyright does not protect ideas, concepts or methods of operations.
For information concerning possible protection of ideas, concepts or
methods of operation, please see Dial-Law #50 on patents.
Copyright does not protect slogans, no matter how clever, because
slogans are deemed to embody sufficient authorship. Slogans can at
times be protected as trademarks. For information on trademark
law, please see Dial-Law #51 on trademarks.
Once you create a copyrightable work - unless you have done it for an
employer or otherwise for hire pursuant to an agreement - you are the
author and therefore, the owner of the copyright. As owner of a
copyright, you have the exclusive right (subject to certain exceptions)
to reproduce, adapt, distribute and sell your work or copies of it to
the public and to create derivative works. Also, unless your work is a
sound recording, you have an exclusive right to perform or display it
publicly. Certain "fair uses" are allowed to others under the law,
however, such as to teachers and librarians.
For works created on or after January 1, 1978, the Copyright Act of 1976
provides automatic copyright protection from the day the work is fixed
in a tangible medium of expression until fifty years after the author's
death. If a work is made under special commission or as part of
employment, the work may be a “work made for hire” and the
copyright may belong to the employer. The copyright for a work made for
hire lasts for 75 years after publication or 100 years after
creation-whichever is shorter. Publication occurs anytime the general
public has unrestricted access to copies of the work, such as when
copies are sold or given away.
To protect the copyright, a copyright notice should be visibly placed on
all copies of your work. This notice should include:
1. A letter "C" in a circle, or the word "Copyright", or its
2. The year of first publication of the work; and,
3. The name of the copyright owner.
An example is "Copyright, 1984, The Chicago Bar Association." For sound
recordings, you should use a symbol consisting of the letter "p" in a
circle, followed by the year and owner's name.
After March 1, 1989 such notice is no longer mandatory, but is a good
idea. If you have forgotten to use a copyright notice on a work created
prior to March 1, 1989, it is possible that you may not have
automatically forfeited your copyright. In such a case, you can revive
your copyright if you have not distributed many copies publicly, if you
make a copyright registration within five years after publication of the
work and you add the notice to all future copies or if the omission was
contrary to your written instructions. However, you may have forfeited
protection if you intentionally omit the copyright notice from copies of
a work published before March 1, 1989.
You can file an application to register your copyright claim on a form
which is available at the website of U.S. Copyright Office at www.copyright.gov. (Remember it is
.gov, not .com.) Different forms are required for different types
of works. The completed form and current fee must be mailed to
must register your work before you sue anyone for infringement.
Searchable databases of copyright registrations are also available at
the website of U.S. Copyright Office at www.copyright.gov. (Remember it is .gov, not
The test for infringement or unlawful use, of a copyrighted work is
whether the alleged infringing work (a) has been copied from, and (b) is
substantially similar to the original work.
The law provides some very useful remedies for infringements of works
which are protected by registered copyrights - such as an injunction,
actual damages, the infringer's profits, or statutory damages for
willful infringement. Your attorney's fees and court costs may also be
recovered. Warning – most of these registration benefits are
available only if the work was registered before the infringement
If you believe someone is using your copyrighted work without
authorization, you should see a lawyer who is experienced in copyright
The complexity of copyright law does not permit anything but a
summary of some of its highlights here.
Thank you for accessing Dial-Law. We hope this information has been