Why should your register your Copyright with the US Copyright Office? First of all, you can not sue to enforce your copyright against infringement if you don't register. Here are the top 5 benefits of copyright registration.
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DAMIEN ALLEN: Good morning and welcome to Traverse Legal Radio. My name is Damien Allen and today with us via the telephone in the studio with have Mr. Brian Hall. Brian Hall is an attorney with Traverse Legal PLC. Brian’s practice focuses on copyright matters, including copyright filings and registrations, copyright infringement litigation, and copyright licensing and related matters. Brian represents the online business interests of entities throughout the world, especially as it pertains to the internet law and related business representation matters. Good morning Brian and welcome to the program.
DAMIEN: And this morning we’re going to be speaking about copyrights. First off right off the bat, what is a copyright?
BRIAN: A copyright is a form of protection. It’s a piece of intellectual property that gives the author of an original work the exclusive right for a certain period of time which, for example, with an individual is the life of the author plus seventy years. It gives them the exclusive right for that period of time to that work and an author may have a copyright for a literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, or certain other intellectual works.
DAMIEN: What else does a copyright give me?
BRIAN: Well, there’s numerous benefits that a copyright going to give you once you fix that copyright into a tangible form. The first one is an exclusive right to reproduce copies of the work. You can also prepare derivative works based upon that original work, distribute copies or transfer ownership of that copyright, perform the work, display the work, and even in some cases the right to attribution and integrity of that particular work. So, really copyright protection extends to all the copyrightable expressions in a particular work. What people need to keep in mind and remember is that copyright protection is not available for ideas, program logic, algorithms, some systems methods or concepts, or layouts for example. It really is limited to, you know, the original expression of something that is captured in a tangible form.
DAMIEN: Well, how would I go about getting a copyright for myself if I had a piece of music, or a movie, or a story?
BRIAN: Sure. Well, you already have one under common law as soon as you secure an original work of authorship in a tangible in a fixed medium. And really those are copyright law terms of art, but they’re extremely important. The originality component is critical. Making sure that it is fixed in some tangible form simply means that it is not just an idea. It’s not just, ‘hey I’ve thought about this, but I haven’t done anything with it, I want to protect it.’ Something like that is best protected by a patent, a utility patent more often that not. And fixing it in a tangible medium simply means a drawing, or sheet music, or a photograph, videotape, computer file, whatever it might be. That common law copyright is essentially known as a poor mans copyright, because no registrations required, no filing with the U.S. Copyright Office is necessary. So, it doesn’t cost anything to get those original common law rights. But, filing a copyright with the United States Copyright Office allows you to claim statutory rights under the Copyright Act and that’s something that attorneys, like myself, always recommend that someone pursues.
DAMIEN: Now, what should I do if somebody else uses my copyrighted material?
BRIAN: First of all, it’s illegal for anyone to violate any of those exclusive rights that I’ve mentioned; the right to distribution, the right to make derivative works, things like that. So, what you want to do is essentially make sure that that person is on notice that you believe you have rights to that material and that they’re violating your exclusive rights. The claim that most often comes into play is what is known as copyright infringement and to prevail on a claim of copyright infringement a plaintiff must demonstrate two main things. The first is ownership of a valid copyright, which is one of the main benefits of filing for a copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. And then the second is copying of what is known as constituent elements of the work that are original. So, if you have a copyright protected piece of music and somebody creates the same or similar piece of music that creates confusion then that’s going to be a problem and possibly copyright infringement.
DAMIEN: Are there other reasons why a person should pursue a copyright registration with the United States Copyright Office?
BRIAN: Definitely. One of the big ones is filing for and either receiving a registration for a copyright or being refused registration for a copyright are a prerequisite to filing a copyright infringement lawsuit in a United States Federal District Court of Law. So, without filing for that copyright with the Copyright Office you cannot file a lawsuit. Which, sort of, brings up one of the additional benefits that I like to call the big stick and what essentially that means is the ability to receive statutory damages and legal costs and attorneys fees for copyright infringement. So, in order to benefit from this a copyright registration must be received prior to infringement or within three months of publication, first use of that copyrighted material to the public. Otherwise, you will have to prove actual damages which can be difficult and not worth the enforcement depending on what types of royalties would be made off of that particular work, etc. So, those are two big ones and then finally a certificate of registration made before or within five years after the first publication of the work serves as prime facie evidence of the validity of the copyright, in fact, stated within that copyright certificate that you would receive. Put another way this shifts the burden to the defendant in any copyright infringement lawsuit to demonstrate why the copyright is not valid. Quite frankly, it’s simply means that it serves as prima facie evidence that you are indeed the owner of the work and not someone else.
DAMIEN: Any closing thoughts on copyright registration Brian?
BRIAN: Well, like I said before and alluded to you don’t a copyright registration to have rights, to use the small c circle on your work, or even to use your work. But, based upon the reasons that we’ve gone through and we’ve discussed there are those benefits that make it worth while. With so many disputes settling before trial these days the benefit of a copyright registration usually is enough of that big stick to lead to a resolution in the owners favor more often than not. So, copyright registration is valuable intellectual property that you can monetize through licensing or sale and ultimately the cost of a registration is slight when compared to the benefits. Thus, ensuring a proper return on your investment which is always something that we try and keep in mind for the client and most clients should be asking about.
DAMIEN: Thank you very much for joining us today and sharing all of this information on copyright.
BRIAN: No problem Damien. I appreciate it.
DAMIEN: You’ve been listening to Traverse Legal Radio’s Radio Spotlight. I’m Damien Allen in the studio. Everybody have a great day.
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