The Nuts and Bolts of U.S Copyright Law

Individuals and businesses face can face copyright disputes in many different types of situations and often may not even be sure that a copyright issue exists. Some of the following are some common examples of copyright infringement in the United States today:

  • A musician samples a piece of another song or copies a particular chord progression without authorization;
  • A person downloads music, movies, or television shows through piracy programs;
  • Someone uses another person’s photograph to design clothing, greeting cards, or other products; or
  • A person or company posts videos of another person’s work on YouTube, including sports highlights or television clips.

These are, of course, only a few examples of ways a copyright dispute can arise.

Copyright cases can involve large sums of money. For example, the estate of late singer Marvin Gaye was recently awarded more than $7 million for the unauthorized copying of parts of Gaye’s song “Got to Give it Up” in the 2013 hit “Blurred Lines.” Infringements can also cost your business substantial profits. If you ever suspect that someone else is unlawfully using or profiting from your original work, you should never delay in discussing the matter with an experienced intellectual property attorney. Furthermore, if you have been accused of copyright infringement, a strong defense is important to keep you from facing a large financial penalty.

Basics of Copyright Law

Copyright laws in Title 17 of the United States Code allow individuals or businesses to protect their original work from misappropriation. When artists, authors, musicians, software developers, or others file a copyright, any use of the copyrighted work must be properly authorized by the rightful owner. Further, a person needs authorization to reproduce the work, distribute the work, perform the work in public, display the work, or make derivative works. The following are common works that may be protected:

  • Pieces of literature
  • Pictures, sculptures, and graphic works
  • Sound recordings
  • Musical works and lyrics
  • Plays and other dramatic works
  • Choreography that has been written down or recorded
  • Architectural works

Copyrights cannot, however, protect abstract ideas, concepts, or a form of expression that has not been tangibly recorded.

 When Do Copyright Protections Exist?

Too many people believe that in order to have protection of their work under the law, they must file certain paperwork or take other affirmative steps. This is not the case, however, as copyright protections are automatically effective when the work is created. This protection will continue throughout the creator’s entire life plus 70 years following their death.

Though it is not necessary to register a copyright protection with the United States Copyright Office, individuals and businesses who choose to register enjoy certain benefits. Registration provides publicly available record of your copyright protections and serves as evidence of your ownership in any subsequent legal disputes. Additionally, you are not able to file a legal claim for infringement until you have registered your copyright and timely registration can save you in legal costs. The registration process involves completing an application, a copy of the work to be protected, and a filing fee.

 Copyright infringement cases can be extremely complicated and significant sums of money can be at stake. Anyone who believes they may have a copyright dispute or who simply wants more information regarding the legal implications of a copyright should contact our office for help today.