Copyright Basics: What Is a Copyright and Why Is It Important?

At its core, a business organization has one or many reasons for being. Usually there is at least one product or service being offered for monetary compensation. Simply put, the seller is seeking many buyers.

Part of a prudent strategy for furthering the goals and mission of the business is legally protecting the things of value belonging to the seller in order to continue selling and hopefully making a profit.

Some of the most valuable parts of a business are its intellectual property, including copyrights, trademarks and patents.

Key Differences Between Copyrights, Trademarks, and Patents

Patents are often used in the manufacturing and scientific industries when there is an invention of a new process, machine or design among other things. Generally, the patent is an intellectual property right granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that, for a limited period of time, protects that invention or discovery and prevents others from using or making money from it. In exchange, the invention is made public.

Something a bit more familiar to people is a trademark. A trademark helps consumers tell the difference between the products of one company versus those of another company and generally gives legal protection to a word, phrase or symbol. A trademark does not need to be registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Different from both patents and trademarks, a copyright protects original works of authorship that are fixed in a tangible format. Although the advent of the digital age often brings new meaning to what is considered a tangible format.

What Can Be Copyrighted?

Copyrighted works include the following categories:

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

Copyright Laws

The U.S. Copyright Office is the federal agency that handles copyright registration and other related matters. The symbol © indicates an original copyrighted work. Like a trademark, copyright registration is not required. However, the most complete legal protection is available when the copyright is registered. Certain damage awards may not be available to unregistered copyright owners. When a case goes to court, the difference in award amounts can be quite substantial.

A critical element of a copyright is that there must be an original work. A copyright search can be made of registered copyrights in order to determine the copyright owner and to find out if there are similar books, music, art, etc. that are already registered.

Finding out how to register a copyright is fairly easy. The U.S. Copyright Office states that “your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.”

Further, the U.S. Copyright Office states that copyright, “protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed.”

A Bundle of Rights

The power behind a copyright is that it is several different rights bundled together. The protection extends to published and unpublished works.

Section 106 of the 1976 Copyright Act generally gives the owner the exclusive rights to do and authorize others to:

  • Reproduce the work in copies or phonorecords
  • Prepare derivative works based upon the work
  • Distribute copies or phonorecords of the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease or lending
  • Perform the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomines, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  • Display the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomines, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work
  • Perform the work publicly (in the case of sound recordings) by means of a digital audio transmission

It is illegal for anyone else to infringe upon these rights. For any business to truly protect its assets, intellectual property and especially copyrights should always be something to be aware of and taken into consideration.

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This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.

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