Copyright Enforcement FAQs
Protecting and enforcing your intellectual property rights is essential as a small business owner. Copyright enforcement is the legal action taken to protect and defend the rights of copyright owners against unauthorized use, distribution, reproduction, or other forms of infringement of copyrighted material.
This article focuses on the following frequently asked questions (FAQs) about copyrighted work and copyright infringement enforcement.
- What works are eligible for copyright protection?
- Who is the owner of a copyright?
- How long does copyright protection last?
- Do I need to register my work with the U.S. Copyright Office to enforce it?
- How do I register a copyrightable work?
- Is a copyright notice required for protection and enforcement?
- How do I enforce my legal rights?
- What are copyright infringers' defenses to enforcement of copyright protection?
- Can I enforce copyright for works created by others but assigned to me?
- What is the role of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in copyright enforcement?
- Can I enforce my copyright internationally?
- What international laws protect copyright?
- Need legal advice about how copyright law enforcement works?
What works are eligible for copyright protection?
Copyright protects original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. The medium of expression can include paper, canvas, audio, or videotape. Copyright protects original forms of expression, including works in:
- Computer software programs
A copyright holder has the right to:
- Distribute works
- Reproduce works
- Display works
- Make derivatives
- Perform the works in public
A copyright owner may seek enforcement of this right if an infringer violates it. Public domain works do not get copyright protection.
Who is the owner of a copyright?
The copyright owner is the person or people who created the work. But, the following circumstances change ownership:
- The copyright owner sells the copyright to another person or a company
- The work was made for hire
- The company hires an independent contractor to create the work
How long does copyright protection last?
Copyright protection begins when you create an original work in a tangible form. For works published after 1977, protection applies for the following term:
- For 70 years after the death of the author
- For 70 years after the death of the last surviving author of a joint work
- For 95 years from the date of publication or 120 years from creation if the work was made for hire by an employee or an independent contractor
Do I need to register my work with the U.S. Copyright Office to enforce it?
Copyright protection is automatic upon the creation of an original work. But, having a timely registration with the U.S. Copyright Office enhances an owner's legal remedies. Under the Copyright Act, an owner of a published work that encounters infringement can collect up to $150,000 in statutory damages. Only a statute or law authorizes statutory damages. A copyright owner may get attorney fees for the enforcement action if the registration of the published work happens within three months after the first publication date or before the infringement occurs. An owner of an unpublished work is entitled to the same remedies if the work registration occurs before the infringement.
How do I register a copyrightable work?
An applicant can complete the registration application for a copyright claim with the U.S. Copyright Office through the mail or online. The copyright registration process can take about two to nine months.
The types of work eligible for copyright registration include:
- Literary works
- Visual arts works
- Performing arts works
- Sound recordings
- Architectural works
- Computer software
Once the registration process is complete, the copyright holder will get a certificate of registration.
Is a copyright notice required for protection and enforcement?
Works published before March 1, 1989, had to contain a valid copyright notice to get protection. Under current copyright law, this is not required. The notice increases the likelihood of a claimant winning a copyright infringement lawsuit. A valid copyright notice should include the word "copyright," the symbol ©, the date of publication, and the author or owner of the work.
How do I enforce my legal rights?
Someone has infringed on your copyright. How do you enforce your copyright? The key steps to enforcing a copyright include:
- Monitoring infringement
- Gathering evidence
- Sending a cease-and-desist letter
- Filing a lawsuit
- Negotiating settlements
- Pursuing remedies, like an injunction or damages, in court
The copyright owner can file a copyright enforcement lawsuit against the infringer in federal court. If successful, the owner may seek a restraining order or injunction to stop the infringement. If you win, then you can get monetary damages and attorney fees.
What are copyright infringers' defenses to enforcement of copyright protection?
A copyright infringer can create a legal defense by claiming the following:
- The fair use doctrine applies
- The statute of limitations prevents the lawsuit
- The infringer got a license from the owner
- The infringer was unaware of the work's copyright status (innocent infringer). A defendant can't use this on federally registered copyright.
- The infringer did not rely on the copyrighted work
Can I enforce copyright for works created by others but assigned to me?
Yes, if you, as an individual, non-profit, or for-profit organization, hold the copyright or have exclusive rights to a work, you can enforce the copyright. You do this on behalf of the creator or your organization. Pay close attention to the assignment terms or agreement that granted you the right.
What is the role of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in copyright enforcement?
The DMCA sends takedown notices to infringers. A DMCA takedown notice is a legal notice sent to web hosting providers to request the removal of infringing content. Once an infringer gets the DMCA notice, they must remove such content.
Can I enforce my copyright internationally?
Yes, you can pursue copyright enforcement internationally. Various treaties and agreements enforce international copyright protection. For example, the Berne Convention is an international treaty recognizing copyright protection among its member countries.
What international laws protect copyright?
Copyright protection for original and creative works enjoys worldwide protection through international treaties. The Berne Convention applies to nationals of member countries. The treaty affords automatic protection to authors for their life plus 50 years. GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) also provides copyright protection to the authors of member countries.
Need legal advice about how copyright law enforcement works?
A trained legal professional can guide you through the copyright enforcement process. If you feel someone has infringed on your work or you are defending against an infringement case, speak to an intellectual property attorney. For additional information about copyrights, visit FindLaw's Copyrights page.
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