What is a copyright?
The creator of any creative work is presumed to hold the copyrights to that work unless the creator has transferred his or her rights to a third party under a work for hire arrangement or by an assignment of rights. who owns a website and its separate elements. In order to really understand the implications of not holding the copyrights to any creative works you or your business has had someone else create, you need to understand what a copyright is and what it allows you to do. First, a copyright is formed the moment a work is put into tangible form that is visible, including visible from a machine such as a computer. This is why exclusive ownership of a copyright is presumed to be with the author under Copyright laws unless a written agreement to the contrary exists.
But, whoever legally owns a copyright actually owns a bundle of rights allowing the owner to do certain actions with the protected work. In essence, a copyright is nothing more than a collection of legal rights allowing the owner to do perform (and prevent) certain actions with the work.
The Copyright Act grants five rights to a copyright owner, which are:
- the right to reproduce the copyrighted work;
- the right to prepare derivative works based upon the work;
- the right to distribute copies of the work to the public;
- the right to perform the copyrighted work publicly; and
- the right to display the copyrighted work publicly.
These exclusive rights are different from the rights given to a person who simply owns a physical copy of the work itself. In that case, whoever purchases a copy of the work, such as a book, as property rights in that particular copy of the work, but no copyrights exist. This is an important distinction to understand since its implications can be enormous from a business standpoint.
Advantages of Copyright Registration
Although registration is not necessary to protect your works, registration does provide significant advantages. Some of the key advantages are summarized as follows:
- Before an infringement suit may be filed in federal court, copyright registration is necessary for any works originating in the U. S.;
- If registration is done before or within five years of publication, copyright registration will establish prima facie evidence (evidence “on its face”) in court of the validity of the copyright;
- Registration allows the owner of the copyright to record the registration with the U. S. Customs Service for protection against the importation of infringing copies;
- If a copyright is registered before an infringement occurs or within three (3) months of publication, it is possible to obtain “statutory” damages. Copyright law permits a copyright owner to collect “actual” damages such as lost profits due to an infringement. The law also permits the collection of “statutory” damages instead, which range from $750 to $30,000 per infringing act, or up to $150,000 if the infringing act was “willful.” The availability of statutory damages is important since it is often difficult to prove actual damages or “gross revenue” stemming from an infringement and this saves the copyright holder from having to do so;
- Finally, you will have the right to place a copyright notice on all copies of the copyrighted work you distribute if you register it. While copyright notice it is no longer necessary for works published since 1989, it still can provide added protection for your work. A proper copyright notice consists of the following elements:
- C-in-a Circle (or the word “Copyright” or the abbreviation “Copyr.”);
- The year of first publication;
- The name of the copyright owner