Michael E. Melton is a lawyer who practices in Texas and specializes in all of the different copyright laws. There are four ways to protect yourself or your ideas and these are called intellectual property rights.
Here we look at the specifics relating to copyright and what this will and will not cover.
What is copyright? Copyright is protection of both published and unpublished works and it is stated in the US constitution and therefore covered by US law. There have been many successful and even high profile cases, sometimes involving celebrities that have gone to court regarding Copyright
What does copyright protect? Copyright protects any kind of what we call intellectual property. This means anything that someone has created and includes works of art, music, poetry, novels, songs, computer software and even architecture. It does not protect facts or ideas but other types of copyright such as patents can protect ideas. Some facts can be protected by trade secrets and so on.
How is a copyright different from a patent or a trademark? It differs as above copyright only protects things which have an author whereas a patent will protect a discovery or an idea. A trademark will protect words, symbols, phrases and designs which are synonymous with that product e.g. the Coca Cola bottle.
When is the work protected? A piece of work is protected from the moment it is created.
Do I have to register with your office to be protected? No this isn’t necessary but becomes useful if you ever have to prosecute or bring a lawsuit as it will cover more of your expenses.
Why should I register my work if copyright protection is automatic? Registration is recommended and wise for a variety of reasons. Many want it to be a note of public record that they were the creator of this individual piece and as stated above it will cover statutory damages and attorneys’ fees if there is ever a successful litigation regarding the copyrighted article. Furthermore, if registration occurs within five years of the publication of the item then it is considered better in the eyes of the law, again which will help if there is ever a messy legal battle.
I’ve heard about a “poor man’s copyright.” What is it? This is when you send your work to someone. There is no real benefit in doing this as there is no provision in copyright law of this and it is no way a substitute for registering your item.
Is my copyright good in other countries? The United States does have very good copyright relationships with most countries throughout the world. This means that they will honor each other’s copyrights for the documents owned by their citizens. However, this does not by any means cover every Country and if you needed to look into this further you could find a comprehensive list of all the countries covered and not covered by the copyright laws online.