Work For Hire
Intellectual Property Audit
What is copyright?
Copyright is a form of intellectual property law that protects original works of authorship. This protection applies to literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture.
The owner of the copyright has the exclusive right to do certain things or give others permission to do those things. Copyright includes the right to:
However, copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed. If you want to protect your business ideas from competitors, then consider whether those ideas are trade secrets or can be protected by confidentiality and nondisclosure agreements.
Copyright also doesn’t protect titles, brand names, slogans, or other short phrases. But sometimes, these items can be protected by trademark law.
Who owns the copyright?
The copyright in a work initially belongs to the “author” of that work. In the legal sense, “author” typically refers to the person who originally created the work.
If the person who created the work was an employee, and the work was created within the scope of their employment, then the “author” is actually the employer. But if the person who created the work was an independent contractor, then the contractor is the author unless the work qualifies as a work made for hire.
If multiple people contributed to the creation of a work, then they are considered joint owners of the work. Joint owners don’t need each other’s permission to profit from the work by selling copies or licensing the work to others. However, they do have the share in the profits earned from doing so, unless they have a contract that says otherwise.
Should I register my copyrights?
The main reason to register your copyright is that copyright registration is a prerequisite for bringing a lawsuit for copyright infringement. Without a copyright registration, you cannot sue someone for copyright infringement, regardless of your “poor man’s copyright” (a legal fiction, by the way). So if your work is worth more than the copyright registration fee, then you should register your copyright.
Copyright registration also creates a public record of your copyright claim. If you register your copyright within five years of publication of your work, then the registration is considered prima facie evidence of the validity of your copyright. In other words, by registering your copyright, the burden is no longer on you to prove you are the author or creator of the work.
Better still, if you register your copyright within three months of publication (or prior to any copyright infringement), then you are entitled to statutory damages (generally, $750 - $30,000 per work) and attorney’s fees. If you can show that the infringement was “willful,” then the court can award up to $150,000 for copyright infringement.
Can I use the copyright © symbol without registering my copyrights?
Yes. While notice is no longer required under U.S. Copyright law, including a copyright notice on your work puts the general public on notice of several important facts, including (a) that the work is protected by copyright, (b) who the copyright owner is, and (c) the year the work was first published. Unlike the registered trademark symbol ®, use of © does not require registration of the copyright.