Copyright Overview

Learn About Copyright Protection

What is a Copyright? – this article defines copyright, lists the rights provided to copyrighted works, identifies the categories of works that can be protected through copyright, and indicates types of articles that cannot be protected through copyright

Power of Copyright Protection – this article provides a real world example of copyright protection in action. An analysis of an infringement suit filed by guitarist Joe Satriani, whose instrumental was allegedly copied by the band Coldplay in its song “Viva la Vida”

Work Made for Hire – this articles defines work made for hire under the Copyright Act, describes the two means of creating a copyrighted work made for hire: through an employment relationship and through a commissioned work with a written agreement, and explains the significance of the determination for copyright authorship and the term of copyright protection

About Our Firm’s Copyright Services

Wolfe & Houlehan is a full-service copyright law firm. Our experience and knowledge of copyright law allows us to be incredibly efficient in the handling of all copyright matters. Consequently, we offer low flat fees for most services, described in full on their respective pages so you know what you are getting and what the full cost will be. We offer the following copyright services:

  • Copyright Registration, Mandatory Deposit, and Preregistration – our firm will apply for copyright registration on your behalf and submit your work with the Copyright Office. Published works must be submitted for mandatory deposit. Certain works may be preregistered to secure additional rights in the event of infringement.
    • Registration provides several benefits. For instance, under Section 411(a) of the Copyright Act, registration is a requirement to file suit. Numerous courts, in Kentucky and nationally, have enforced this provision. See Lexmark International, Inc. v. Static Control Components, Inc., 387 F.3d 522 (6th Cir. 2004).
    • Prior registration also ensures that it is easy to enforce copyright protections should an infringement occur. Registration takes approximately 3 to 10 months to be issued. Copyright Office FAQ – Now What. Consequently, this may cause a significant delay in enforcing legal remedies or may cause the statute of limitations to lapse on the infringement claim.
  • Copyright Renewal and Length of Protection – works created between January 1, 1964 and December 31, 1977 may be renewed with the Copyright Office. We offer renewal of such works. The length of copyright protection varies based on when a work was created. The duration of works created since 1978 is generally the life of the author plus 70 years.
  • Copyright Assignment – a copyright holder transfers ownership of the work to another person or business through an assignment. A filed/recorded assignment provides evidence of the transfer. We offer federal copyright assignment drafting and recording services.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the constitutional basis for copyright laws?
    • Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution states that Congress has the power “to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.” Based on this clause, Congress enacted the Copyright Act, found at Title 17 of the federal U.S. Code.
  • What are the rules regarding the use of the copyright notice and symbol?
    • You are entitled to use the copyright notice and symbol (©) any time you have created an original work of authorship that has been fixed in a tangible medium of expression (e.g., written down, recorded, etc.). The notice and symbol may be affixed to the work irrespective of whether the work has been formally registered and/or deposited with the Copyright Office, and no prior authorization or special permission from the Copyright Office is required.Proper notice of copyright indicates that a particular work is copyrighted. Consequently, the notice should include the word “Copyright”, an abbreviation such as “Copr.”, or the copyright symbol, and must be placed in an obvious and noticeable portion of the work. The notice should also accurately identify the copyright owner and the year of first publication. Example: “Copyright © 2014 Wolfe & Houlehan PLLC. All Rights Reserved.”

      Though the use of the copyright notice and symbol has not been required since March 1, 1989 (first effective date of the 1988 Berne Convention Implementation Act), there are several benefits to affixing both to an original work:
      1. “Use of the notice informs the public that a work is protected by copyright, identifies the copyright owner, and shows the year of first publication.” Copyright Office – Circular 3: Copyright Notice
      2. The proper use of a copyright notice can defeat a defense of “innocent infringement” should an infringement action arise. This defense is a claim that the defendant did not realize that the work was protected which, if found, reduces the potential damages recovered.   3. Use of the notice may be necessary for works published before March 1, 1989. That is, such earlier works may lose copyright protection if proper notice is not included.

  • What steps are required of a copyright author/owner?
    • Following enactment of the Copyright Act of 1976 and the Berne Convention Implementation Act of 1988, copyright owners have only a few formalities to comply with:
      •  As described above, proper use of the copyright notice and symbol is voluntary but advantageous.
      •  A work may be registered with the Copyright Office. The lack of registration does not affect the rights granted by the Copyright Act automatically upon creation. However, registration provides certain advantages to the copyright holder, most notably the ability to file an infringement suit and access to additional types of monetary damages.
      •  A work that is published must be submitted in accordance with the mandatory deposit provisions of the Copyright Act. Usually, two complete copies of the best edition of the published work must be sent for inclusion in the Library of Congress’ records. The mandatory deposit requirement may be satisfied simultaneously with copyright registration.
      •  A new work created gains a full term of copyright protection upon creation. Works created between January 1, 1964 and December 31, 1977 may still be renewed, which conveys certain benefits.
      •  Assignments or other legal documents transferring the rights initially provided to the work’s author may be recorded with the Copyright Office to demonstrate current copyright ownership. Usually, such a document is required to transfer ownership rights but recording is not mandatory.
  • What is a “phonorecord”?
  • What is a “pseudonymous work”?
  • What is the “public domain”?
    • “A work of authorship is in the ‘public domain’ if it is no longer under copyright protection or if it failed to meet the requirements for copyright protection. Works in the public domain may be used freely without the permission of the former copyright owner.” Copyright Office FAQ – Definitions. Once a work has fallen into the public domain, no registration with the Copyright Office, use of the copyright notice, or subsequently enacted law can restore its copyright protection.After several decades, depending on the copyright laws in place when a work was created, a work loses its copyright protection and enters the public domain to benefit the public at large. The Copyright Office does not compile or maintain a list of works that have fallen into the public domain. Copyright Office FAQ – Can I Use Someone Else’s Work?. The only way to determine whether a particular work is free to use is to check the registration info in the Copyright Office’s records and consider the length of protection for the work. It is clear, however, that all works published in the U.S. before 1923 are in the public domain.
  • What is a “poor man’s copyright”?
    • “The practice of sending a copy of your own work to yourself is sometimes called a ‘poor man’s copyright.’ There is no provision in the copyright law regarding any such type of protection, and it is not a substitute for registration.” Copyright Office FAQ – Copyright in General.By mailing oneself a copy of a personally created work, it is thought by some that there will be some proof that the work was created as mailed by the postmark date. But proof of creation is only relevant if copyright is disputed, and according to Section 411(a) of the Copyright Act, a work must be formally registered before an infringement suit may be filed. Therefore, someone who has obtained only a “poor man’s copyright” will still have to register the work with the Copyright Office before taking action to prevent unauthorized use, which is the rationale for getting a “poor man’s copyright” in the first place.
  • I have received a mandatory deposit notice from the Register of Copyrights. What do I do?
    • Under Section 407 of the Copyright Act, published works must be deposited with the Copyright Office within three months of publication. Though it is generally up to the copyright owner (or person holding the publication rights) to make the deposit voluntarily, occasionally such a notice will be sent to remind the copyright owner of the legal obligation.It is important to respond to this notice by filing the appropriate version of the published work and required number of copies with the Copyright Office. “If the required deposit is not made within three months of the demand, the person or organization obligated to make the deposit is liable for a fine for each work plus the retail price of the copies; if the refusal to comply is willful or repeated, an added fine may be incurred.” Copyright Office – Circular 7d: Mandatory Deposit.

      In most cases, the owners of published works seek the benefits of copyright registration and opt to simultaneously register and deposit their works with the Copyright Office.

  • Is my copyright valid in other countries?
    • In many cases, yes. The U.S. and over 100 other countries are members of treaties which honor the copyrights provided in each other’s countries. Such treaties include the Berne Convention, the Universal Copyright Convention, and the WIPO Copyright Treaty. The treaties ensure that U.S. authors may enforce their copyrights in other nations and foreign authors may do the same in the U.S. “An author who wants copyright protection for his or her work in a particular country should first determine the extent of the protection available to works of foreign authors in that country.” Copyright Office – Circular 38a: International Copyright Relations of the U.S.
  • Do you handle foreign copyright applications?
    • No. At this time, our firm does not handle foreign registrations of U.S. works or U.S. registrations based on foreign copyright registrations.