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 abbreviation "Copr.";
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  (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 U.S. Copyright Office, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, D.C. 20559-6000.  Telphone requests can be made to (202) 707-3000.  You 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 (Remember it is .gov, not .com.)

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 began.


If you believe someone is using your copyrighted work without authorization, you should see a lawyer who is experienced in copyright law.


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 helpful.