What Do Copyright Laws Protect?

Rob Pene
Rob Pene
Oct 2, 2018 · 5 min read

Copyright is a type of protection provided by the United States Constitution. Copyright Law protects original works of art, music and written works from being used without the permission of the author or artist.

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Photo by Drew Sal on Unsplash

Imagine you are a songwriter and you wrote the lyrics and music to a song, which you share with a recording artist. The artist tells you that they are not interested in recording your song.

A year later, you hear the song you wrote on the radio, but the recording artist never paid you for using the song nor did they give you credit for creating the song. In this example, you would be protected under Copyright Law. Using your work without your permission is called copyright infringement. If you are the victim of copyright infringement, then you should retain an attorney.

What is Protected Under Copyright Law?

So, what exactly does Copyright Laws Protect? Copyright covers both unpublished and published works. Copyright Law protects the following types of works:

  • Dramatic works, such as screenplays, skits, and operas
  • Written and literary works, including poems, newspaper articles, novels, manuals, magazine articles, blog posts, catalogs, and text advertisements
  • Sound recordings and music
  • Choreographic work including jazz, modern dance, ballets and more
  • Motion pictures, television shows, training videos and online videos like those found on YouTube
  • Architectural works including building plans and drawings
  • Graphics and pictorial designs
  • Sculptures and similar works

What Cannot Be Copyright Protected?

To be protected under United States Copyright Laws, a work must have been created independently. It must also contain a sufficient amount of creativity. Certain elements are outside the bounds of Copyright Law. Here are some things not covered by Copyright Law:

  • Titles
  • Ideas or principles
  • Methods and systems
  • Fonts, lettering, and typeface
  • Layout or design
  • The name of a business, band or character
  • Logo or graphic material
  • Symbols, letters, musical notations, abbreviations and symbols on a keyboard
  • Blank forms that are designed for recording information
  • Recipes (With exceptions)

A recipe itself, which is a list of ingredients is not copyrightable. However, a recipe that creatively depicts or explains how to prepare and cook the dish can be protected under Copyright Law. Also, original photographs or drawings that accompany the work may be copyrightable. Here is an example of a recipe that is copyrightable.

Who Has The Right To Claim Copyright Of A Work?

The person who has the right to claim copyright or ownership of an original work of art is the person that created the work. There are some exceptions to this rule:

  • Works made for hire or transferred to a company or person- When a person or company hires another person to create a piece of work for them, the party that hired the individual is the author. That person or company is the Copyright owner of the work — not the original author or creator of the work as they have sold their Copyright. An example of this would be when a ghostwriter is hired to create a novel for an author. The ghost writer does not retain the Copyright of the book. It is the author who has the Copyright.
  • Works made by an employee — When an employee writes or creates works as part of their regular job duties, they do not own Copyright to the material. It is their employer that retains Copyright to all that they create.

How Long Does Copyright Last?

In general, the Copyright lasts for the life of the author plus seventy years after their death.

If the work was created for hire or anonymously, then the Copyright lasts for 95 years from publication to 120 years from creation — whichever is shorter.

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Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

How Can I Protect My Copyright?

The Copyright owner can take steps to protect their work, such as registering it. Although registration is not required for works created in the United States, the work must be registered if you want to pursue Copyright litigation.

Is A Copyright Notice The Same As Registration?

A Copyright Notice is not the same as registration. However, it does inform the public that you are claiming ownership of the work. Here are the three elements that make up a Copyright Notice:

  • The copyright symbol © — You can also use the abbreviation “Copr.” or the word “Copyright.”
  • The name of the copyright owner. An abbreviation of the name is also excellent.
  • The year of publication. If the work is unpublished, then you can put the year of creation.
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Photo by Adolfo Félix on Unsplash

What Is The Benefit Of Including A Copyright Notice On Works?

There are several benefits to including a Copyright Notice on your work. These include:

  • It identifies the original owner of the work.
  • In the event of litigation, it can prevent a defendant from claiming that they did not know that the work was copyrighted.

How Can Copyrighted Work Be Used?

If someone wants to use works that you own the Copyrights to, then they should ask for permission from you. You can decide whether or not to allow them to use the work.

Hiring a Copyright Attorney

If your rights are being infringed upon by a third party under Copyright Law, then you should talk to a lawyer who is experienced in this area of the law. Copyright Law is a specialized area of law that falls under “intellectual property law.”

You have several options to fight Copyright infringement, from writing a cease-and-desist letter to filing a lawsuit. An experienced intellectual property lawyer can help you choose the best option for your particular situation.



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