What Is a Copyright?

Copyrights are forms of intellectual property protection that find their basis in the Constitution of the United States and granted under the law to protect original works of authorship. This includes both published and unpublished works. There are various categories of works that can be protected by copyright laws in the US, including movies, software, literary works, paintings, live performances, photographs, and more.

Here, we want to provide a brief overview of what a copyright is, the rights that a copyright owner has, how to register a copyright, and why it is important to copyright your work. If you have any additional questions, speak with a local Orange County business attorney.

General Overview of a Copyright

The dictionary definition of copyright is “the exclusive legal right to reproduce, publish, sell, or distribute the matter and form of something (such as a literary, musical, or artistic work).”

Copyrights protect the form of material expression, but not the ideas, concepts, facts, or techniques of the work. Copyrights protect works that are fixed in a tangible form.

The owner of a copyright receives various protections. The Copyright Act in the United States gives the copyright owner the right to:

  • Reproduce the work
  • Prepare other works based on the original work (derivative works)
  • Distribute copies of the work through sale, lease, or transfer of ownership
  • Display or perform the work publicly

The copyright owner also has the right to authorize others to do any of the points mentioned above. The copyright owner has the option to transfer their exclusive rights or any subdivision of those rights as well. However, copyright transfers are typically done through a contract because the Copyright Office will not have forms of these transfers.

Registering a Copyright

Contrary to what many people believe, it is not necessary to register a copyright with the US Copyright Office in order for a person to secure copyright protections for their works. However, registration with the Copyright Office does have advantages. By registering a copyright, this creates and provides a public record of the copyright claim. Additionally, the owner of a work will not be able to file a lawsuit for infringement unless they have registered their copyright.

If a copyright is registered within three months of publishing a work, or before an infringement lawsuit occurs, then the owner of the work will have the ability to recover attorney’s fees and statutory damages in the event they have to file a lawsuit and are successful.

In order to register a Copyright, the owner of the work will need to fill out an application form, pay a non-refundable filing fee, as well as a non-returnable “deposit” of a copy of the work. This can be done electronically.

What if You Do Not Register Your Work?

Your work is protected under copyright from the moment it is created and put into a fixed tangible form. As mentioned above, you do not have to register your copyright, but doing so will make it easier to hold others accountable in the event they use your work without your permission.