A copyright is the legal right to exclusive publication, production, sale, or distribution of a literary or artistic work. Most people are unaware that a copyright is created upon completion of a work, not upon the filing of a copyright application with the U.S. Copyright Office in Washington, D.C..
Copyright protection, like patent protection, is established in Article 1 §8 clause 8 of the U.S. Constitution. That clause of the Constitution states: “Congress shall have 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.”
Copyright applications are not reviewed by the Copyright Office, they are essentially filed and granted a number. As a result, mere possession of a certificate of copyright registration is worthless if the person(s) submitting the work was not the true author of the work. Further, a person or entity may be entitled to reproduce a portion of another’s copyrighted work under the “fair use doctrine.” Under the fair use doctrine, a person or entity may use a portion of another’s copyrighted work for the purpose of, for example, satirical purposes, educational purpose or making a political commentary.
Copyrights generally take the form of:
• literary works
• audio-visual works
• musical works
• sound recordings
• dramatic works
• choreographic works
• graphic works
The author(s) not only retain the exclusive right to publish, produce, sell or distribute his/her work (provided it was not a work for hire), but also retains the right to derivative works from their initial authorship. Therefore, an author has the sole right to write a sequel to a book or movie.
A copyright holder has exclusive rights to:
1. Reproduce the work in copies or phonorecords;
2. Prepare derivative works based upon the work;
3. Distribute copies or phonorecords of the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending;
4. Perform the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
5. Display the copyrighted work publicly, in the case of 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; and
6. In the case of sound recordings, to perform the work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.
Determining how long a copyright last is a somewhat tricky undertaking. If a work is created today, the work will be copyrighted for seventy years after the death of the author (or the last surviving author if there were more than one).
For more information on copyrights, visit the United States Copyright Office: www.copyright.gov