A copyright is a type of intellectual property that protects artistic creations such as writings, movies, and paintings that a person creates. For example, when a painter paints a scene on a canvas, the painter has a copyright on the painting. Anyone that copies the painting would be infringing on the painter’s copyright. Short words and phrases are not copyright protected. Copyrights last for the life of the author plus 70 years.
What should you use copyright to protect your idea?
Copyrights protect things of an artistic nature. For example, movies, paintings, and writings are protected by copyright. Even software is protected by copyright even though it is functional in nature. The software is protected in the selection, ordering, and arrangement of the lines of software code.
Copyrights overlap with other areas types of intellectual property. For example, design patents can be used to protect the aesthetics of a product’s configuration. Moreover, even trademarks can be used to protect artistic features such as logos and the trade dress.
When is copyright not useful in protecting an idea?
Copyrights are not useful in protecting functional things. As such, inventions cannot be copyright protected. For example, an artistic belt buckle cannot be protected by copyright because the functional aspects of the buckle are fused with artistic features. Even though these functional objects can’t be protected with a copyright, they can be protected with a design patent.
What rights do copyrights provide?
Copyrights provide the owner with the right to exclude or stop others from:
- Reproducing the work in copies or phonorecords.
- Preparing derivative works based upon the work.
- Distributing copies or phonorecords of the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership or by rental, lease, or lending.
- Performing the work publicly if it is a literary, musical, dramatic, or choreographic work; a pantomime; or a motion picture or other audiovisual work.
- Displaying the work publicly if it is a literary, musical, dramatic, or choreographic work; a pantomime; or a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work. This right also applies to the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work.
- Performing the work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission if the work is a sound recording.
Copyright does not protect against independent creation. For example, if someone without knowing about Mickey Mouse drew a mouse that had similar features compared to Mickey Mouse wouldn’t be infringing on Disneyland’s copyright in Mickey Mouse.
Should you register your copyright?
Many people if they are willing to read through the documentation to register a copyright can get through the process. You can read the documentation at the Copyright Office.
A copyright right arises immediately once an author fixes the artistic creation in a fixed tangible medium of expression. For example, once you put pen to paper or save your writing on a hard drive, the author has a copyright in the writing.
However, copyright registration provides additional benefits to the author. In particular, with copyright registration, the copyright owner has the ability to ask for statutory damages and attorney fees. Statutory damages are oftentimes higher than actual damages. As such, it is important to have the ability to seek statutory damages to get a copyright infringer to stop infringing on your copyright. For example, a person that copies a $10 painting would be liable for $10 to the copyright owner. No person would seek damages for $10 because the legal expenses would be so much more and make the financial calculus not worth it.
Attorney fees would be the other aspect of copyright registration that would effectively deter copyright infringers from continuing with the infringement. The copyright infringer would have to pay for your attorney fees. Oftentimes, these fees are significantly higher than the damage incurred by the infringement.