Are Commercials Copyrighted?

By Terry Masters

With the free accessibility of information and creative content over the Internet, it can be hard to know what is legally available to take and enjoy for free. It can be confusing to realize that something that may be free and legal to enjoy in one context may not be in another context. Most people think of commercials as a free bit of advertising that they are subjected to when they watch television or listen to the radio. Just because a commercial is broadcast for free through certain media does not mean that it is legal for anybody to upload the commercial on YouTube or post it for download on a website. Commercials are copyrighted, and only authorized parties may broadcast, copy or distribute them.

With the free accessibility of information and creative content over the Internet, it can be hard to know what is legally available to take and enjoy for free. It can be confusing to realize that something that may be free and legal to enjoy in one context may not be in another context. Most people think of commercials as a free bit of advertising that they are subjected to when they watch television or listen to the radio. Just because a commercial is broadcast for free through certain media does not mean that it is legal for anybody to upload the commercial on YouTube or post it for download on a website. Commercials are copyrighted, and only authorized parties may broadcast, copy or distribute them.

Original Creative Work

Copyright law protects the creator of an original work by giving him exclusive rights to perform, copy, distribute and display the work for a certain length of time. As long as a creative work is original, the creator holds the copyright in it. If a work is composed of original and unoriginal work, the creator of the original work holds the copyright in the portion of the work that he is responsible for creating. Commercials are a type of artistic performance that qualifies as an original work. Moreover, recording the commercial also creates an original artistic work that is represented by the tangible audio or audiovisual master file. Commercials are creative works in the same way as movies and enjoy the same protective copyrights.

Protect against infringement by registering a copyright. Get Started Now

Fixed Format

Under the law, an artist gains a copyright the moment that his creative work is fixed in a tangible form. Once a commercial is scripted or rehearsed, the creator has a copyright in it. Even if a is never aired on television or heard on the radio, the owner still holds a copyright in the production. Most modern commercials are most likely copyrighted. Only those commercials that are in the public domain because the term of copyright protection has expired, lost copyright protection because the owner did not follow the law governing his rights or were dedicated to the public domain by the creator are not copyrighted.

Federal Registration

The easiest way to check if a commercial is copyrighted is to search the public database of copyright registrations that is maintained by the U.S. Copyright Office. Although the creator of a commercial does not need to register a copyright in the work to have a valid copyright, he must register his copyright if he wants to sue infringers in federal court. The federal copyright statute pre-empts all state laws on copyright, so the only way to bring an infringement action is for the creator to place his work under the auspices of the statute by registering with the government and suing in federal court. State courts no longer have jurisdiction to hear copyright actions.

Multiple Rights Holders

Commercials can have multiple copyrights attached. The producer of the commercial has a copyright in the entire work as performed and a copyright in the specific original parts of the production that he created. The producer may have used the creative work of others to produce his commercial and would have had to obtain permission from the holders of the rights to the material. For example, a commercial might use a background song that is copyrighted to the songwriter and performer. The commercial might also use clips of a past sporting event that is copyrighted to a particular sports team or league. Many commercials consist of an amalgamation of multiple copyrights that belong to many different parties.

Protect against infringement by registering a copyright. Get Started Now
Are Advertising Brochures Copyrighted?

References

Resources

Related articles

How Do I Copyright My Music?

Original music is protected by copyright law as soon as it is written or recorded, but enforcing music copyrights can be difficult. Musicians who want to ensure the ability to bring copyright enforcement lawsuits against people who infringe on their copyrights need to register their works with the U.S. Copyright Office. Registering copyright for original music is simple and inexpensive.

Can Therapeutic Techniques Be Copyrighted?

The U.S. Copyright Act of 1976 guarantees the ability of creators to profit from their original work. However, the act restricts the type of material that can be copyrighted. A therapist who develops an original technique may enjoy such protection if she is careful to put her ideas and techniques into a copyrightable form.

Copyrights: How to Protect Something That Is Photocopied

The owner of a copyright holds exclusive rights over the copyright material, including the right to reproduce and distribute copies of the work, even if the work is photocopied. Copying copyrighted work via a photocopier can be copyright infringement if the photocopied content is used to share with colleagues, customers, an entire organization or the general public, for example. The question of how to protect copyrighted content when it is photocopied is the same as protecting copyrighted content. Except for fair use or if some other exemption applies, only the holder of the copyright or his agent has the right to make and distribute copies, including photocopiesof his copyrighted work. Copyright law allows copyright holders to sue for lost profits or statutory damages that result from copyright infringement, in trials that are usually long and expensive. Federal registration provides the best protection over the original works of authorship, over any additional copies and over any unauthorized use of the material. The owner should proactively protect his work, through federal registration and deposit the original copy with the Library of Congress, noting the copyright date and owner's name on each copy. Subsequent registration with the U.S. Custom Service can deter illegal importation of unauthorized copies.

Related articles

What Does it Mean if Fine Art Has a Copyright?

U.S. copyright law protects works of visual art, including paintings, drawings, photographs, and prints or ...

Can You Get Your Art Copyrighted?

Copyright protection gives an artist the exclusive right to his original creative work for a specific length of ...

Copyright Laws on Exercise Routines

Title 17 of the U.S. Code extends copyright protection to original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works. ...

Copyright Law on Streaming PPV Events

Copyright law in the United States continues to evolve as technology changes and new ways to copy and distribute ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED