Copyright is a legal protection, afforded by federal law, regarding the reproduction and distribution of creative expressions of art, literature, information or ideas. Important procedures relating to copyrights include the procedures for claiming a copyright, enforcing a copyright and sharing or terminating a copyright. Some of those procedures require filing paperwork with a government agency, while others do not. The general purpose of all copyright procedures under U.S. federal law is to protect the rights of the creative individual who came up with the copyrighted material.
Obtaining a Copyright
Ever since January 1, 1798, federal law does not require any application or other type of formal procedure in order to obtain a copyright. Instead, federal law broadly grants copyright protection to all qualifying works of authorship. This means that any original and creative expression of an idea, in any type of tangible form (such as on paper or in an electronic medium) automatically creates a copyright in favor of the author.
Claiming a Copyright
Federal law presumes that all authors claim a copyright in their works, unless an author specifically relinquishes her copyright. So, if a photographer takes a picture of a person or event, the law presumes that the photographer will claim a copyright covering the photo. The copyright automatically exists unless the photographer expressly disclaims the copyright. The photographer does not have to include any language, such as the common phrase "Copyright, all rights reserved" on the photograph in order to claim copyright. However, such language is a good idea because it puts all observers on notice that a copyright does exist and has not been disclaimed. A good copyright disclosure should generally include the copyright symbol (c), the year of the creation of the work, and the phrase "Copyright, all rights reserved."
Enforcing a Copyright
Before you can enforce a copyright against a person who may have violated the copyright by reproducing or distributing your copyrighted work without your permission, you will have to "register" your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. Registration is a simple process involving a relatively simple application form, nonrefundable filing fee, and a refundable deposit. Once you have registered your copyright, you can then proceed to enforce your copyright by filing an infringement lawsuit against the person who has violated your copyright. If you are successful in your infringement action, you can obtain a judicial order prohibiting further misuse of your copyrighted work, and you may also obtain money damages to compensate you for the infringement.
Sharing or Terminating a Copyright
You can share or relinquish your copyright at any time, and in a variety of simple ways. You can give verbal or written permission for somebody else to use your copyrighted work. You can even license your copyrighted work to another persona, which generally involves a royalty payment to you in exchange for the license to use your work. You can also terminate your copyright at any time by simply declaring, verbally or in writing, your intent to terminate the copyright.