Copyrights – Steins & Associates | Southern California Patent Attorney

Copyright protection extends to original works of authorship and provides the right to exclude others from reproducing, derivating, distributing, performing, or displaying the author’s original work. Subject matter falling within the domain of copyright protection includes literary (including computer software), musical, audiovisual, sculptural, architectural, and choreographic works.

Copyrights protect only the form in which the ideas are “fixed.” Federal Statutory copyright protection exists from the date that a work is “fixed” in a “tangible medium of expression” and endures 70 years after the last surviving author’s death. For works made for hire, and for anonymous and pseudonymous works (unless the author’s identity is revealed in Copyright Office records), the duration of copyright will be 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter.

Overlap With Other Areas of Intellectual Property – Although copyrights are most familiar as a form of protection for literary and artistic property, other forms of Intellectual Property are copyrightable. Three-dimensional artistic objects, such as a designer lamp base, have been held to be patentable (i.e. design patent) and copyrightable. Furthermore, overlap between copyrights and utility patents covering the technology of computer programs is well established, and many new programs are protected by both.

What Federal Registration Accomplishes – A federal copyright does not have to be issued or registered by the government to be effective. Registration with the U.S. Copyright Office does provide the following benefits, however:

  • it is a prerequisite for infringement litigation
  • it provides constructive notice to potential infringers (this may cure errors or omissions of notice)
  • it entitles the owner to recovery of attorney fees if litigation is necessary to enforce the copyright.

The Federal Registration Process – The formal application for registration must include: title; author(s) name and address; dates of creation and publication; the names of any claimants to the copyright; contact person’s name and address; other descriptive information regarding the type of work; one compete copy of unpublished works or two complete copies of published works; and the appropriate filing fee. The U.S. Copyright Office can typically process registrations in less than 6 months. For an additional fee, an application can be processed within 7 days.

Notice Requirements – For works first published on or after March 1, 1989, a copyright notice may be placed on a work “in such manner and location as to give reasonable notice of the claim of copyright.” Use of the notice is the responsibility of the owner and does not require advance permission from the U.S. Copyright Office. This notice generally consists of three elements:

  • the proper symbology (e.g. ©)
  • the year of first publication
  • the name of the owner of the copyright

An example of a proper copyright notice is – “© 1998, S. Pidasso”