What are the rights of a copyright holder?
The owner of a copyright has the exclusive right to do and to authorize others to do the following:
  1. Reproduce the work
  2. Prepare derivative works based on the work
  3. Distribute copies of the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, such as by rental, lease or lending
  4. Perform the work publicly. This applies to literary, musical, dramatic and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  5. Display the copyrighted work publicly. This applies to literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work

Can I copyright a name, title, slogan, logo or idea?

A copyright protects original works of authorship. This could include lots of things, such as: books, movies, songs, dances, architecture, and software code.

Your work is protected by a copyright the moment it is created, but to get the full power of a copyright, you must register your copyright with the US Copyright Office. This creates an official, public record of your copyright. If you ever need to sue to protect your work, a registered copyright will be a huge benefit.

Copyright doesn’t protect ideas, systems or methods but it may protect the way those things are expressed. If it isn’t fixed in a tangible form such as having been written down, sculpted, built, or recorded – it cannot be protected by copyright.

What about slogans, logos, and titles?

If used to identify a brand in commerce, a trademark is usually required to protect these assets. In general, if a slogan, logo, or other asset creates a connection between a customer and a company, it is a trademark.

LegalZoom can help you register a copyright or apply for a trademark. Answer a few questions about your work and send us a copy of it and we’ll file the paperwork for you. Our copyright and trademark team will support you the entire way, and we can even get you in touch with an independent attorney as part of our legal help plans.

How long does copyright protection last?
Works Originally Created on or after January 1, 1978:

For these works, copyright protection will endure for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years. In the case of a joint work, the term lasts for 70 years after the last surviving author's death. For anonymous and pseudonymous works and works made for hire, the term will be 95 years from the year of first publication or 120 years from the year of creation, whichever expires first.

Works Originally Created Before January 1, 1978, but not Published or Registered by that Date:

For works created but not published or registered before January 1, 1978, the term endures for life of the author plus 70 years. In no case can a term have expired earlier than December 31, 2002. If the work was published before December 31, 2002, the term will not expire before December 31, 2047.

Works Originally Created and Published or Registered Before January 1, 1978 and in their renewal term:

The total term is extended to 95 years from the work's creation.

What is a work made for hire?
Although the general rule is that the person who creates the work is its author, there is an exception. A "work made for hire" is a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment. It can also apply to a work ordered or commissioned in certain specified circumstances. When a work qualifies as a work made for hire, the employer or commissioning party is considered to be the author and owns the copyright to the work. Copyright to a work made for hire is 95 years from its creation.

How do I obtain a copyright?
The way in which copyright protection is secured is frequently misunderstood. Copyright is secured automatically when a work is created. A work is "created" when it is fixed in a tangible form for the first time. For example, a song (the "work") can be fixed in sheet music, phonograph disks or both. No publication, registration or other action in the Copyright Office is required to secure copyright. There are, however, definite advantages to registration, including the ability to sue for infringement.

Can I transfer my copyright?
A copyright owner can transfer rights. However, any exclusive transfer is not valid unless it is in writing and signed by the owner or the owner's authorized agent. Transferring a right on a nonexclusive basis does not require a written agreement.

A copyright may also be given through a Last Will.

Copyright is a personal property right. This means it is subject to state laws and regulations that govern the ownership, inheritance or transfer of personal property as well as terms of contracts or conduct of business. For information about relevant state laws, please consult an attorney.

What is a copyright?
A copyright is a form of protection provided by U.S. law to the creators of "original works of authorship." This includes literary, dramatic, musical, artistic and certain other creative works.
What works are protected by copyright?
Copyright protects "original works of authorship" that are fixed in a tangible form of expression. Copyrightable works include the following:
  1. literary works
  2. musical works, including any accompanying words
  3. dramatic works, including any accompanying music
  4. pantomimes and choreographic works
  5. pictorial, graphic and sculptural works
  6. motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  7. sound recordings
  8. architectural works
These categories should be viewed broadly. For example, computer code and many "compilations" may be registered as "literary works." Maps and architectural plans may be registered as "pictorial, graphic and sculptural works."

Is there anything that cannot be protected by copyright?
Several categories of material are generally not eligible for federal copyright protection. These include, among others:
  • Works that have not been fixed in a tangible form of expression. For example, choreographic works that have not been notated or recorded or improvisational speeches or performances that have not been written or recorded
  • Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans (see trademarks), familiar symbols or designs, variations on typographic ornamentation, lettering or coloring, listings of ingredients or contents with no additional creative elements
  • Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, devices and functional objects. Descriptions, explanations and illustrations of these things are protected by copyright
  • Works consisting entirely of information that is common property and containing no original authorship. For example, standard calendars, height and weight charts, tape measures and rulers and lists or tables taken from public documents or other common sources

Who can obtain a copyright?
Copyright protection exists from the time the work is created in fixed form and immediately becomes the property of the author who created the work. Only the author or those deriving their rights through the author can rightfully claim copyright. In the case of works made for hire, the employer, not the employee, is considered to be the author.

The authors of a joint work are co-owners of the copyright unless there is an agreement to the contrary. Copyright in each separate contribution to a periodical or other collective work is distinct from copyright in the collective work as a whole and vests initially with the author of the contribution.

Two general principles:
  1. Mere ownership of a book, manuscript, painting, or any other copy or phonorecord does not give the possessor the copyright. The law provides that a mere transfer of ownership in a copy does not transfer the copyright
  2. Minors may claim copyright, but state laws can regulate the business dealings of copyrights owned by minors

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