What Entrepreneurs Should Know About Copyrights (Part 2)

Do you know what you can protect, how to secure your rights, and what constitutes copyright infringement? If not, then these three posts are for you!

Part one covered what you can protect; this post explains how to secure your rights; and part three will explore copyright infringement.

How To Obtain a Copyright

Registration isn’t required

Interestingly, copyrights vest as soon as you (a) create an original work within the scope of the Copyright Act; and (b) reduce it to a tangible medium (such as a writing, saved on a hard drive, recorded on tape, etc.).

But registrations are encouraged

Even though you don’t have to register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office, there are many benefits if you do:

  • Public Notice. Registering your work means you are giving notice to the world of your claim. This helps you to defeat “innocent infringers.”
  • Access to Federal Courts. A registration allows you to file suit in federal court.
  • Statutory Damages. If you obtain a registration within the timeframes of the Copyright Act, you can seek statutory damages and attorneys fees in your lawsuit.
  • Validity. Registered works are given a greater deal of validity in court.

How to register your copyright

This part is fairly easy and inexpensive.

First, create an account with the U.S. Copyright Office’s website at https://www.copyright.gov. Then you can draft and file your applications online.

How long copyright lasts

Generally speaking, once copyright is secured, the rights last for the life of the creator plus 70 years. There are situations where it can be longer (and in some cases shorter), but for the purposes of this post that answer should be enough for you (ie, it lasts a long time).

Who Owns The Copyright

While the answer to this question can be complicated based on the facts in your particular situation, here’s the default rule.

  • Default Rule. The person that creates an original work will own the copyright to that work unless one of the exceptions below applies.

There are three common scenarios under which someone other than the creator may own the copyright to the creator’s original works.

  • Creations by Employees. When an employee creates original works within the scope of her employment, copyright ownership will vest in the employer, not the employee.
  • Creations by Independent Contractors. When an independent contractor creates original works, copyright ownership will vest in her client but only if (a) the work is identified as a “work made for hire” in a written agreement between the parties; and (b) the work is of a specific kind identified in the Copyright Act.
  • Transfers in Writing. When a copyright owner transfers ownership of the copyright, in writing, ownership will transfer to the transferee.

Pro Tip: Always use contracts with contractors

To make sure you own the copyright to the works your independent contractors create, always use a written contract with them! The contract should (1) identify the works as “works made for hire” and, as a backup, (2) expressly state that, to the extent the works are not “works made for hire,” that the contractor transfers ownership to your business.

More on copyrights:

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*This article is very general in nature and does not constitute legal advice.