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Copyright Frequently Asked Questions

The answers to the following questions should be read as preparatory rather than as definitive.


Also see:

Patent FAQs

Trademark FAQs

What does Copyright protect?

Copyright protects “original works of authorship” that are fixed in a tangible form of expression.

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What Copyright works are protected?

Literary Work

Select Literary if you are registering a nondramatic literary work, excluding a periodical or serial issue. Literary Works include a wide variety of works: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, textbooks, reference works, directories, catalogs, advertising copy, compilations of information, computer programs and databases. Note: This category also includes an article published in a serial, but not an entire serial issue. Electronic registration is not currently available for serial issues.

Work of the Visual Arts

Select Visual Arts if you are registering a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work. Visual Arts works include two-dimensional and three-dimensional works of fine, graphic, and applied art, photographs, prints and art reproductions, maps, technical drawings, and architectural works.

Work of the Performing Arts

Select Performing Arts if you are registering a musical work (with or without lyrics), a dramatic work, such as a screenplay, play or other script, a pantomime, or a choreographic work. Note: If the registration includes the sound recording as well, select Sound Recording as the type of work.

Sound Recording

Select Sound Recording if you are registering a sound recording. Also, select Sound Recording if you are registering both the sound recording and the underlying recorded musical, dramatic, or literary work(s), along with the sound recording of the work(s). Note: To register both the sound recording and the underlying work on a single application, the copyright claimant must own all rights in both works.

With one exception, sound recordings are works that result from the fixation of a series of musical, spoken, or other sounds. Exception: Under the copyright law, the sounds that accompany an audiovisual work, for example, a motion picture, are not defined as a sound recording. Select Motion Picture/Audiovisual as the “Type of Work” for sounds accompanying an audiovisual work.

Motion Picture/Audiovisual Work

Select Motion Picture/Audiovisual if you are registering a feature film, documentary film, animated film, television show, video, videogame, or other audiovisual work. An audiovisual work is a work that consists of a series of related images that are intended to be shown by the use of a machine or device, together with accompanying sounds, if any.

Works That Include More Than One Type of Authorship

If you are registering more than one type of authorship in a work, select the Type of Work that corresponds to the predominant material. For example, if you are registering a book that is mostly text and also contains a few photographs, select Literary Work. Or, if you are registering a book that is mostly photographs and contains a small amount of text, select Visual Arts. If the two types are almost equal, choose either Type of Work. EXCEPTION: For any registration that includes a claim in sound recording, select Sound Recording as the Type of Work, whether or not the sound recording is predominant.

If a work contains more than one type of authorship but you are registering only one element in it, select the Type of Work that corresponds to the element you are registering. For example, if a book is mainly text with one photograph, but you are registering only the photograph, select Visual Arts as the Type of Work.

The Type of Work is for classification purposes only and has no effect on the validity or legal benefits of the registration.

Single Serial Issue (Published)

Serials are works issued in successive parts bearing numerical or chronological designations and intended to be continued indefinitely. Examples are periodicals, newspapers, magazines, bulletins, newsletters, annuals, journals, proceedings of societies, and other similar works.

Serials which are frequently published can often be registered as a group. This option is significantly less expensive than registering each issue separately. (See the requirements for registration of a group claim: Newsletters, Newspapers, Serial Issues.) If you determine you are eligible to register a group claim, click “Home” and choose “Register a Group Claim.”

If the requirements for group registration are NOT met, then use the “Single Serial Issue” option. Note that this option can only be used for serials that have been published. If the serial issue has not been published, use the “Literary Work” option.

Note that registration for a serial issue covers only the content of that particular issue. A claim to copyright in a single issue of a serial does not give blanket protection for other issues published under the same serial title. Each issue is considered a separate work for copyright purposes. For example, registration of “vol. 1, no. 1” of Country Doctor applies only to that issue and not to “vol. 1, no. 2.”

The deposit requirement for a single serial issue is two copies of the serial issue being registered. (Send only one copy if the issue was first published outside of the United States.)

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What types of works are not protected by copyright?

Copyright does not protect names, titles, machines, facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed.

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What is the legal right gained by copyright registration?

Copyright registration formalizes the ownership of copyright as a public record with the federal government. The record establishes of the pedigree information of a copyright. Even without registration copyright protection begins when the work is made in any tangible form of expression. While registration is not a requirement for protection, the copyright registration provides advantages to copyright registered owners over copyright infringers.

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When is a work protected by copyright?

A copyright work is protected by common law copyright the instant it is put in a “tangible form” (like a book, recorded music, a movie, digital data saved on a computer disk, not a song or a dance that has not been rcorded).

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How long is the term of a copyright?

The Sonny Bono Term Extension Act changed the duration of a copyright owner’s protection, it extended for an additional 20 years.

For works created after January 1, 1978 copyright protection will endure for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years.

In the case of a joint work, the term lasts for 70 years after the last surviving author’s death.

For anonymous and pseudonymous works and works for hire, the term will be 95 years from the year of first publication or 120 years from the year of creation, which ever expires first;

For works created but not published or registered before January 1, 1978 the term endures for life of the author plus 70 years, but in no case will expire earlier than December 31, 2002. If the work is published before December 31, 2002 to the term will not expire before December 31, 2047;

For pre-1978 works still in their original or renewal term of copyright, the total term is extended to 95 years from the date that copyright was originally secured.

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What are the advantages of copyright registration?

Registration establishes a public record of the copyright claim.

Establishes jurisdiction for an infringement suit to be filed in court.

Establishes prima facie evidence of the validity of the copyright and of the facts stated in the certificate if made before or within 5 years of publication registration.

Statutory damages and attorney’s fees will be available to the copyright owner in law suits if registration is made within 3 months after publication of the work or prior to an infringement of the work. Otherwise, only actual damages and profits are available to the copyright owner.

Protection against the importation of infringing copies. The owner of the copyright has to record the registration with the U. S. Customs Service.

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When does copyright publication occur?

Publication occurs on the first day copies of the work are made available to the public.

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Why is publication important in the copyright law?

Works that are published in the United States are subject to mandatory deposit with the Library of Congress.

Publication of a work can affect the limitations on the exclusive rights of the copyright owner.

The year of publication may determine the duration of copyright protection for anonymous and pseudonymous works (when the author’s identity is not revealed in the records of the Copyright Office) and for works made for hire.

Deposit requirements for registration of published works differ from those for registration of unpublished works.

When a work is published, it may bear a notice of copyright to identify the year of publication and the name of the copyright owner and to inform the public that the work is protected by copyright. Copies of works published before March 1, 1989, must bear the notice or risk loss of copyright protection.

See discussion on “Notice of Copyright” below.

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Can anyone file an application for Copyright registration?

Author of the work, copyright claimant, and the owner of exclusive rights or the duly authorized agent of the author.

The copyright in the work of authorship immediately becomes the property of the author who created the work. Only the author or those driving their rights through the author can rightfully claim to possess a copyright. The U.S. Copyright Office will provide certificates to authors who apply for a copyright certificate.

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Are copyrights transferable?

Yes. Like any real property or other intellectual property, all or part of the rights in a work may be transferred by the owner to another.

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What is copyright notice?

Copyright notice is an identifier or a mark placed on copies of the work to tell the world that I put this mark on my work to declare copyright ownership. Copyright notice is not required as a condition of copyright protection, it is now optional. Use of the notice copyright is completed by the owner. You do not need to have a registration with the copyright office to place a notice of copyright on a work.

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How do I give notice of copyright?

Proper copyright notice has three component parts:

  1. The first part has one of the following: The word “copyright”, abbreviation of the word copyright, or the “circle C. symbol” designating copyright (copyright, cprt, or ©).
  2. The author’s name.
  3. The year the work was completed. Multiple years indicate multiple years of completion (i.e. continuing editing).

Here is an example of a proper copyright notice: © Sony 1957

Notice of ownership of copyright must be placed on easily observable place on all copies. Use of the words “All rights reserved” provides protection in a couple South American countries, and is still often used by many large corporations, although it may not provide any more protection than the proper notice as shown above.

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How old do you need to be to claim and register a copyright?

The copyright office issues registration to minors, and minors may claim copyright, however state law may regulate the underlying business dealings involving copyrights owned by under individuals under the majority age.

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Can I copyright my brand name?

No. Names of books, bands, songs or people are not protected by copyright law. Trademark law protects names and brands. Trademark is used as a source indicator. In order to protect name by registering a trademark of product or service must be sold in commerce.

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Can I copyright a brand, name, slogan, title or logo?

Generally speaking copyright law does not protect brands, names, titles, slogans, or short phrases. Brands, names, titles, slogans, or short phrases may be protected as a registered trademark. In certain circumstances copyright protection may be available for logo artwork that is considered an artistic logo.

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Can I use someone else’s work without getting permission?

The fair use doctrine of the US copyright statute allows for use of a limited portion of the work including quotes, for educational and free speech purposes such as commentary, criticism, news reporting, and scholarly reports. Because there are no specific legal rules permitting the use of a specific number of words, a certain number of musical notes, or percentages of the work courts have to interpret whether or not the use is a substantial fair use or material infringement of the original.

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What is an ISBN?

The International Standard Book Number is administered by the R. R. Bowker Company. The ISDN is a numerical identifier intended to assist the international community in identifying and ordering certain publications.

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What is a Library of Congress number?

The Library of Congress catalog number is assigned by the library at its discretion to assist labor and requiring and cataloging works.

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What are copyright royalties?

Royalties are the payments received by the author from the publisher of the author’s work for sales of the work. The collection of royalties is usually covered by a contractual legal agreement between author and publisher or other users of the author’s work. In the music industry is not uncommon to have copyright licensing organizations and publications rights clearinghouses that distribute royalties for authors.

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Is my copyright good in other countries?

United States exercises copyright reciprocity with many countries throughout the world where the United States and the other country honors each other’s citizens’ copyrights. However, the there are many countries in the world in which there is no reciprocity with the United States regarding copyright laws.

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How do I protect my sighting of Bigfoot?

Copyright law does not protect sightings. However, your photo of your sighting of Bigfoot will be protected under the copyright law.

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Can I sue anyone who infringes on my copyright?

Any author can file a federal lawsuit to protect their copyrights against infringement in a Federal District Court. You need to have filed a registration of your copyright in order to bring a civil lawsuit. Without a federal registration of copyright the court does not have federal jurisdiction. The US attorney may bring a criminal case against an infringer if he can show that there was willful infringement for-profit.

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Could I be sued for using somebody else’s work? How about quotes and samples?

If anyone uses a copyrighted work without permission from the owner, the owner may be entitled to bring infringement action against the infringer. However, the “fair use doctrine” allows anyone to a use a portion of the work such as a quote or a sample without permission. But any time anyone uses part or all of somebody else’s copyrighted material, they are at risk of being sued.

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What is the fair use exception to an author’s copyrights?

The legal definition of fair use is “…the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction copies or for records or by any other means, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. 17 U.S.C. §107

The Federal Courts have come up with a test to determine whether or not use is a fair use:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market or value of the copyrighted work.”

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