Copyright protects words, music, images, sounds, books, recordings, paintings, graphics and other similar products that the owner of the copyright creates. Essentially, anything that a person can devise in his or her head and then put down in a tangible form can be copyrighted. Note that it must be in a tangible form (a recording of music, words on paper, paint on canvas) before it can be copyrighted. Copyright does NOT protect the idea for the work while it’s still in your head.
Copyright does protect you from unauthorized use or copying of the work you created. There are protections that kick in as soon as you put that idea down in tangible form. However, filing with the US Copyright Office and state offices offers additional protections, puts the world on notice that you own the work and makes it easier to claim damages when someone uses your work without your permission. An example is the newest song by a pop recording artist that you hear on the radio. The song is copyrighted and the radio station has permission to play it. You will often see the © symbol next to the image.
There are five basic rights in copyright. That is the right to…
- Distribute: This is the exclusive right to market and sell your intellectual property.
- Copy: This is the exclusive right to make copies of the work.
- Perform: This is the exclusive right to publicly perform your work (showing a movie in a theater).
- Display: This is the exclusive right to display your work (hanging your painting in a gallery).
- Create derivative works: This is the exclusive right to create adaptions of your work (translating your book into another language or into a screenplay).
You also have the right to assign or grant these rights to others. Such is the case when you assign the publishing (distribution) rights to a publisher in order to print and sell your book. You can pick and choose which rights you assign away or keep to yourself.
You ARE allowed to use the © symbol without registering your work with the US Copyright Office. You should always use it with the year that you first put the work out to the public.
The digital world has thrown a few wrenches into the system and the laws are struggling to keep up.
THIS INFORMATION IS PROVIDED FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE. PLEASE CONSULT AN ATTORNEY.