obtaining a copyright, a publisher, author, artist and/or composer
gains exclusive rights to their production of original, expressive
information (an artistic or literary work) for a limited time.
1. What is a copyright?
The subject matter of copyright includes any original "work of authorship" "fixed in any tangible medium of expression."
o An author is the creator of the original work.
o "Works of authorship" include, but are not limited to literary
works, computer software, pictorial, graphic and sculptural works,
motion pictures and audiovisual works, and sound recordings.
o "Fixed in any tangible medium of expression" means any concrete
expression of an author's own idea in a medium such as a printed
document, a recording, software, etc.
The subject matter of copyright does not include any procedure,
process, system, method of operation, or concept which is described in
such work. (Some of this subject matter may be protected via patents.)
Note: It is very important to understand the difference between an
expression, which is protected by copyright, and ideas, which are not
protected by copyright. A good way to make the distinction is to think
of Einstein and his theory of relativity. Under copyright law,
Einstein would not have been able to claim any exclusive rights
covering his theory alone. Anyone may use the theory. However, once
Einstein wrote a book stating, describing and explaining his theory,
his book (the expression of the idea) would be protected by copyright.
2. Who holds the property rights?
The copyright owner holds the property rights. Ownership of a
copyright is distinct from ownership of any material object in which
the work is embodied, hence transfer of the material object does not
automatically convey transfer of the copyright.
o If the work was created by one author, the author is the
copyright owner and he/she holds the property rights. He/she may sell
or license the property rights to another who will then stand in the
place of the author.
o If the work is prepared by an employee within the scope of his or
her employment, or if the work is specially commissioned or ordered,
then the employer or the commissioner is considered the copyright owner
unless the parties have expressly agreed otherwise in a written
document which includes the parties' signatures. Recommendation: "work
for hire": when you use material created by an artist who is not an
employee, make sure to either pay a royalty for the public use of the
work or obtain a copyright release. A written document will
demonstrate that the work was commissioned rather than simply being
purchased from an artist's inventory. In the latter instance, the
copyright belongs to the creator unless otherwise agreed.
o If there is more than one author, the work is considered a "joint
work" and all of the authors hold equal and indivisible interests in
the property rights. The property rights may only be sold to another
if all of the authors agree to the transaction, or if the selling
author accounts to the others for any profits.
3. When do rights vest and for how long?
The property rights vest at the time the original work is fixed in
a tangible medium of expression. Copyright protection is automatic,
"when the pen is lifted from the paper." The protection can be
reinforced and made known to the general public by registering the
copyright with the federal government (Library of Congress) and by
affixing the © symbol of the work, along with the owner's name and year
of first publication.
A created work is automatically protected for a term spanning the
copyright author's life plus an additional 70 years after the author's
death. For works made for hire, the duration of the copyright term is
95 years from its publication or 120 years from its creation, whichever
4. What are the rights/limitations?
The copyright owner holds the exclusive right to do or authorize any of the following:
o To reproduce the copyrighted work in copies;
o To distribute copies of the copyrighted work to the public by
sale or other transfer of ownership, or by license, rental, lease, or
o To display the copyrighted work publicly (if applicable);
o To perform the copyrighted work publicly (if applicable);
o A copyright owner may prohibit any person from doing, and/or sue
for infringement any person who does, any of the above activities
without the copyright owner's permission or authorization.
The copyright owner may not prohibit the fair use of the
copyrighted work by others. Fair use is a complex legal concept but
generally can include copying or displaying the copyrighted work for
purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching,
scholarship, or research.
5. Practical tips on copyrights
General: Copyright protection is automatic; however, you can seek
the maximum protection of the federal law by registering the mark with
the Copyright Office (part of the Library of Congress). In return for
a $30 fee, a completed application form and representative copies or
other identifiable materials, the Copyright Office will examine a
copyright claim and, if the standards are met, issue a certificate of
registration. The more frequently used forms are attached to this
Copyright notice: Copyright law provides that the public be given
reasonable notice of the claim of copyright. The notice appearing
on copies should consist of the following three elements: 1) the ©
symbol or the word "Copyright"; 2) the year of first publication; and
3) the owner's name. Example: © 2004 Jane Doe.
Additional information: Copyright Office forms and information are
available on the Internet at: Copyright Basics. All copyright
registrations must be filed by mail or delivered to the Library of
Congress by courier service. The Copyright Office is expected to have
an on-line registration system for public use sometime in 2005.
Examples of Copyrighted Material
A website design is subject to copyright protection. Note the
copyright notice at the bottom of the webpage: Copyright 2004
Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA)
A periodical such as SEMA News may be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office.