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What May Be Covered by Copyrights?

You are an artist. An architect. A screenwriter. An entrepreneur. A small business even. You produce artistic pieces, no matter the medium. Your work is your intellectual property (IP).

Now you want to stop others from profiting off or using your work. Your creations of the mind need IP protection. There are four forms of intellectual property. The four types of intellectual property you may use to protect your work include:

Copyrighting your work is the best way to protect yourself if you produce creative works.

Below is a summary of copyright law. It includes the types of works that qualify for copyright protection. It also provides examples of works not eligible for copyright protection.

What Does a Copyright Protect?

Copyright safeguards "original works of authorship" recorded or preserved in a tangible expression format. Works in a tangible form include:

  • A story written on paper
  • A story written electronically
  • A computer program stored on a disk, USB, or other tangible format
  • A song recorded on tape, mp3, or other tangible format

Copyrightable works include a wide range of creations. Including the following examples:

  • Literary works
  • Musical works, including any accompanying words
  • Dramatic works, including any accompanying music
  • Pantomimes and choreographic works
  • Artistic works, including pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
  • Motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  • Sound recordings
  • Architectural works

These categories should have a broad view. For example, "literary works" also include computer programs and compilations. Artistic works also include maps and architectural plans.

What Is Not Protected by Copyright?

Works not fixed in a tangible form of expression cannot have copyright protection. For example, choreography not notated or recorded cannot have protection. Improvisational speeches or performances not written down or recorded cannot have protection either.

Copyright protection does not extend to:

  • Company names
  • Titles
  • Short phrases
  • Slogans
  • Familiar symbols or designs
  • Simple variations of typographic ornamentation
  • Lettering
  • Coloring
  • Lists of ingredients or contents

The elements listed above generally fall under trademarks. You can seek registered trademark protection through the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

Copyright protection also does not extend to:

  • Ideas
  • Procedures
  • Methods
  • Systems
  • Processes
  • Concepts
  • Principles
  • Discoveries
  • Devices
  • Explanations (this is different from a description)
  • Illustrations

The items above require a patent application for protection. There are different types of patents, such as design, utility, and plant. You can submit patent applications to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Copyright does not apply to works consisting of common property information without original authorship. Examples of such ineligible works include standard calendars, height and weight charts, tape measures, rulers, and lists or tables taken from public documents or other common sources.

Other works that cannot have copyright protection are works in the public domain. These include works created by:

  • The U.S. government
  • Federal judicial decisions or statutes
  • Government speeches given during their employment, like the Gettysburg Address
  • Press releases

Copyright Registration

Copyright registration is a process where creators can register their copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. While copyright registration is not required for copyright protection, it provides a public record and additional legal benefits. Copyright gives the copyright owner exclusive rights to their creative work.

Suppose you are a startup or business owner collaborating with other entities in business ventures. In that case, it is wise to use a non-disclosure agreement when discussing using your copyright. The non-disclosure agreement is a legal contract that protects confidential information shared between both parties.

In infringement cases, copyright owners may earn statutory damages. Statutory damages are monetary awards set by copyright law. Sometimes you can get attorney fees as well.

Get Legal Advice From a Lawyer Familiar With Copyright Laws

Whether you are attempting to protect your sound recording, visual art, or performance art, an intellectual property law attorney can counsel you on the proper steps to protect your intellectual property. An experienced intellectual property attorney can help you anticipate potential disputes and assist in minimizing litigating your IP rights.

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