Copyright protects an author’s original literary, artistic, and other intellectual work. Either individuals or businesses may be considered “authors” under U.S. copyright law. Authors are granted exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, perform and display their work, as well as create derivative works based on the original. Proactive copyright policies can ensure these rights are protected and enforced effectively.
Section 102 of the U.S. Copyright Act states that copyright protection begins the moment an original work is “fixed in any tangible means of expression.” Neither registration nor publication is required before copyright protection begins. Keeping detailed records of the date work was created enables applications for registration to be filed within three months of creation, providing the author access to greater damages in an infringement suit. If there is a dispute, these records prove when copyright protection began.
Although authors are not required to required to register their copyrights, there are a number of benefits to doing so. Registration provides a public record of copyright ownership. For works created in the United States, registration is often a prerequisite to filing a suit for infringement in federal court. If registration occurs before or within five years of publication, courts consider the copyright’s validity self-evident. Authors who register their copyright claim within three months after publication of their work may also recover attorney’s fees and receive statutory damages from infringers.
A basic copyright notice includes the copyright symbol (©), the name of the copyright owner, and the date of first publication. U.S. law does not require notice of copyright for works published after Jan. 1, 1978. However, ensuring all copyrighted works include a basic copyright notice informs everyone of the copyright’s existence. Any alleged infringers will be unable to use the “innocent infringement” defense, arguing they didn’t realize the work was protected by copyright. Damages an author receives for infringement can be reduced by the successful use of this defense.
Works Made for Hire
An employee who creates original work at the behest of her employer creates a “work made for hire.” The work must be created within the scope of the employee’s employment, and the employer must have control and authority over the employee and the work performed. In this situation, the employer is considered the “author” of the work and owner of the copyright. Contracts with employees stipulating their work is work-for-hire avoid potential disputes over copyright ownership.