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What Is a Copyright?

By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. | Last updated on

Many small business owners create innovative new works in order to entice consumers. Some might wonder what is copyright protection? Or how can copyright law help me or my business?

Maybe you spent hours working on that new jingle for your television commercial. Or, perhaps you've just hired a new graphics artist to create your company's logo and illustrate new artwork for your print ad.

Whatever the case, copyright protection can help protect your image and your property. Here are the basics of what you need to know about copyright protection.

What can be copyrighted: The U.S. Copyright Act allows protection for any work that is "fixed" in a tangible format. This means anything that is written, typed out, or saved on a computer file. It also covers items that are recorded on audio.

There are 8 broad categories (for example, things like computer programs are considered "literary works"):

  1. Literary works
  2. Musical works
  3. Dramatic works
  4. Pantomimes and choreographic works
  5. Pictures, graphics and sculpture works
  6. Movies and other audiovisual works
  7. Sound recordings and audio
  8. Architectural works

What protections are given: Once a work is copyrighted, the owner has exclusive rights to reproduction of the work, preparation of derivative works based on the original, distribution of copies of the work, public performance of the work and public display of the work.

How long does protection last: Copyright protections typically last quite a while. They last for the life of the creator of the work plus 70 years if the work was created after 1978. Works created in the course of employment or by commission last between 95 and 120 years depending on when it was published.

Keep in mind that copyright law does not extend to protecting "ideas" - works need to be in a fixed form. But remember that knowing what copyright is and seeking appropriate legal protections can help businesses keep some of their most prized property.

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