By Alan Graner
Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. The brief summary below is of a general nature. For definitive answers, consult a copyright attorney or visit http://www.copyright.gov/
Previously I described the downside of violating copyright law, including hefty fines and possible jail time.
Now let’s take a cursory glance at copyright law because chances are you will violate it…and ignorance of the law is no excuse.
Much of the following is quoted directly from U.S. Copyright Office materials which, ironically, can’t be copyrighted. (See my next blog.)
What is a copyright?
“Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.”
“Copyright, a form of intellectual property law, protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed.”
How long does a copyright last?
As a general rule, copyrighted works created after January 1, 1978 last for the life of the author plus 70 years.
Copyrighted works published before 1978 have varying lengths depending on several factors. (See Chapter 3 of the Copyright Act.)
You don’t have to renew copyright for works published after January 1, 1978.
For works published or registered before 1978, renewal registration is optional after 28 years.
When are you protected by copyright law?
“Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.”
In addition to books, music, art and other published expressions, assume everything published on the Internet is copyrighted unless otherwise stated.
This means your blog, your YouTube video, your articles, your social media efforts, your website content are usually protected by copyright law.
Do you have to register your copyrighted material?
No. However, you do have to register copyright if you want to sue someone and be eligible for statuary damages and attorney’s fees if you win.
If you register your copyright within 5 years of publication, it’s considered prima facie evidence in a court of law.
To copyright your work and place it in the public record, add the copyright symbol or the word “copyright,” the name of the copyright’s owner and the year of first publication. Example: ©2012 Ana Gram.
If you register your copyright you can use the “R ball”: ®2012 Al Chemy
What is the “poor man’s copyright”?
This is the practice of mailing a copy of your own work to yourself. (Note: There’s no provision for this in copyright law.) The concept: Receiving your sealed work with the postmark is proof the work existed on that date. If there’s a dispute, say with a submitted movie script or article, you can present the sealed package in court to claim you had the idea first.
What is copyright infringement?
According to the U.S. Copyright Office, “As a general matter, copyright infringement occurs when a copyrighted work is reproduced, distributed, performed, publicly displayed, or made into a derivative work without the permission of the copyright owner.”
What is “fair use” of copyrighted material?
“The distinction between what is fair use and what is infringement in a particular case will not always be clear or easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.”
Have an interesting copyright story? Have something to add? We’d like to hear it.
Image: William Pyne
Alan Graner is Chief Creative Officer at Daly-Swartz Public Relations, an Orange County, CA marketing communications firm. For steadfast and ethical PR campaigns that get results, email Jeffrey Swartz at firstname.lastname@example.org.