Copyright refers to a form of legal protection that offers an individual control over their original piece of work. Copyright can also be defined as the right to copy. This means that innovators of a product/program and original authors of work alongside any other authorized party are the only ones with the exclusive right to replicate the work.
When an individual comes up with an invention that is perceived as unique and that took a substantial amount of time and creativity to create, the result becomes an intellectual property that necessitates protection from unlicensed duplication and infringement.
The most common forms of intellectual property that require copyright protection are:
- Inventions (such as unique computer software)
- Literary and artistic works such as poetry, novels, film
- Graphic designs,
- Musical lyrics and compositions
- Website content and blogs
- original architectural designs
- Names and symbols used for commercial purposes.
How Copyrighting Works
Under copyright law, an invention is only professed as unique/original if the author created it from independent thinking void of replication. Such types of works are usually referred to as original works of Authorship (OWA). Any individual with an original work of authorship is bound to receive copyright protection upon its completion. This means that one does not have to go through the official copyright registration process if they find it unnecessary. However, it is still important that an original author of work uses a copyright notice to protect his/her work under the copyright law, to the dominance in the event of a legal issue in the future, or if they intend to commercialize the work.
Inventors of work should note that copyright protection does not apply to all types of work. Examples of such content include:
- Ideas, concepts, discoveries, and methods that are in intangible form
- Any creative expressions that are intangible
- Titles, designs, names, familiar symbols, or slogans
- Ingredient lists
- Variations of scripts or typefaces.
Important Note: For intellectual property to be protected under copyright law, the original author must convert it into a tangible form. This means that any speech, musical lyrics, compositions, or ideas and discoveries must be physically written down to be shielded under Copyright law.
Importance of Copyright Notices
A copyright notice is a voluntary declaration placed on an individual’s work to inform the public that he/she owns the full rights to the work and that it is protected by copyright law. Copyright notices are no longer mandatory for a piece of creative work to be safeguarded under copyright law. In essence, in the United States, a copyright notice is noncompulsory for any foreign works, unpublished works, and works published after March 1, 1989, when the U.S. signed on to the Berne Convention. However, if work was published before this date, a copyright notice was mandatory for the work to be protected by copyright law.
While original creators of work are no longer required to use a copyright notice to gain copyright law protection for their work, the use of it is essentially recommended due to the following reasons:
- Copyright notice serves to inform the public that a specific piece of work is safeguarded by copyright. Thus, it helps in avoiding potential infringers.
- A copyright notice prevents any third party from claiming an ‘unintentional infringer’ status, which under the Copyright Act allows a third party who has reproduced the work to escape certain damages.
- A copyright notice provides information about the author and the year the work was first published. This allows third parties to know whom to contact for licensing requests and permission to use the work.
Copyright Registration Benefits
Copyright registration is not mandatory but registering a copyright can have numerous advantages to the author of an original work. These include:
- Copyright registration allows the author to sue others for copyright infringement. For instance, if copyright registration is made 3 months after publication, the original author of the work can win the infringement case and collect statutory damages as well as attorney’s fees. Without copyright registration, an individual can only collect actual damages.
- Given that copyright registering is done before or within five years of publication of an original creative expression, it will establish prima facie evidence in a law court verifying the validity of the copyright and facts stated in the copyright registration certificate.
- Copyright registration establishes a public record of the copyright claim and allows for documentation of change of ownership of copyright.
- Registration of copyright inhibits importation of any infringing copies of an author’s work.
Where to Place a Copyright Notice
A copyright notice should be placed visibly on a piece of work such that whenever another person views the work, he/she can immediately tell that the work is copyrighted. Generally, the location of a copyright notice relies on the type of work being protected. Discussed below are examples of common copyright notice locations for various sorts of work:
- Copyright notices on websites and blogs are often displayed on the footer. However, some creators of websites choose to include a dedicated copyright notice declaration section or page on their work. In addition, the author of the blog or website should include a date range to the copyright notice to ensure that the entire site’s content is protected.
- Photos and other forms of digital art mostly have a copyright notice statement displayed as a footer on the work or placed as a watermarked label
- Videos and films usually have their copyright notice placed in the description box
- Inventors of computer software mainly place their copyright notice statement on the medium of distribution- if the media used to distribute the software is physical, the copyright notice will typically be displayed on the disk that contains the software. On the other hand, if it is downloaded, the copyright notice will appear on a screen page displayed whenever the software is downloaded.
- Copyright notices on digital works should always appear on the terms and agreements page.
Format of a Copyright Notice
A copyright notice usually comprises four key elements: The copyright symbol, the work’s first year of publication, the copyright owner’s name, and a statement of rights. These elements are as discussed below:
The copyright notice’s symbol is usually abbreviated as (©), or the word “copyright” or abbreviated as “Copr.” The (©) notice is used only on visually observable copies such as computer software and mobile apps. For other kinds of work such as musical lyrics and compositions, dramatic and literary works, the letter “P” in a circle is used to indicate copyright protection.
First year of publication of work
The copyright notice indicates the year the work was first published or a date range if the piece of creative work is periodically updated. Indicating the year of publication and date range helps the public to know how long copyright protection is bound to last.
Important Tip: If an author’s discovery is unpublished, the suitable format for the copyright notice should be the phrase “unpublished work” preceded by the year of creation.
Copyright owner’s name
A copyright notice must indicate the author’s full legal name or business name to make it easy for the public to determine whom to contact when they need permission to use the work.
Important tip: The copyright owner’s name can be a single person, several people, a business, or an organization
Statement of rights
A copyright notice can also include an author’s statement of rights to clarify the level of control he/she holds over the piece of creative expression. This can be indicated by using any of the following phrasal:
- Total/full/all rights reserved- This means that the author holds all rights to the work and that no third party can use it without their permission.
- Some rights reserved- This means that the author allows the use of the work under certain exceptional circumstances, such as “fair use” purposes.
- No rights reserved- this means that the author has released their work into the public domain.
Copyright Registration Process
Copyright registration is the process by which an author of the original work files a record of their copyright with the United States Copyright Office. Upon successful registration, the author receives an acknowledgement certificate from the Copyright office.
It is important to note that copyright registration is not mandatory for copyright protection. However, it is usually a precondition for filing a copyright claim on the United States’ original works office. Nonetheless, an individual can still file an infringement lawsuit on previously unregistered works, provided they apply for copyright registration immediately before initiating the lawsuit.
Generally, applications for copyright registration can be made anytime during the validity of the copyright. However, when registering a copyright, the author must submit the following essential items to the U.S Copyright Office:
- A properly filled application form usually submitted online or via mail
Pro tip: It is wise to submit the application online as it requires a lower processing fee, and it is usually processed faster than a paper application.
There is a wide assortment of copyright registration forms that one can use. The appropriate form to use depends on the type of content being registered. For example:
Form TX is appropriate for published and unpublished non-dramatic literary works; form VA for visual arts, form PA is used for musical, dramatic, and other audiovisual works; and form SE for serials such as newspapers or periodicals. The author is advised to pick the correct application form for the specific category of creative work.
- A filing fee for online forms or hardcopy forms. The filing fee is non-refundable.
- A deposit of the piece of creative work being registered. In most cases, the non-returnable deposit of the work being registered is one or two copies of the best publication of the work. Again, this requirement may vary depending on the type of work. Provisions are included for blocking out vital aspects of the work, such as the source code for a computer program, to shield trade secrets.
Mandatory Deposit Requirements
According to the United States’ section, 407 of the Copyright Act, a copyright owner of published work must deposit certain mandatory copies of the work in the U.S Copyright Office in a period of not more than 3 months of its first publication.
According to the act, publication is defined as the circulation of copies or phone records of a work to the public commercially or through lending, leasing, or renting. The obligatory deposit requirements ensure that the Library of Congress has access to each copyrightable work published in the U.S.
Failure to comply with this requirement has no effect on copyright protection for the work, but its legal enforcement is applicable when the Register of Copyrights files a claim against the copyright owner for failing to submit the mandatory deposits.
Given such cases, if the required deposit is not made in a period of not more than 3 months from the time of the demand, the copyright owner is penalized to a fine of not more than $250 for each copy of the published work and an additional dollar amount totaling to the current retail price of each copy of the work. In addition, if the refusal to comply is established to be deliberate or recurrent, an additional fine of $2,500 is imposed on the copyright owner.
Copyright Notice Samples
Following are a few copyright notices for better understanding:
Common Law Copyright Notice
Copyright Notice Format
Copyright Notice Sample
Copyright Notice Example
Copyright Notice Template
Copyright Notice in Doc
The United States Copyright law ensures that an author’s piece of creative work is copyrighted as soon as it is created. Whereas this may protect the work from theft and copyright infringement by other third parties, it may not be enough. To add an extra layer of protection for one’s work, the original author of the work can consider adding a copyright notice to the work to declare to the public that the content is copyrighted and requires authorization for use. In addition, he/she can consider registering the copyright with the United States Copyright Office to strengthen their case, should any third party ever commit copyright infringement.