What Is Copyright?

Copyright is a form of protection provided by U.S. law to the authors of "original works of authorship" fixed in any tangible medium of expression. The manner and medium of fixation are virtually unlimited. Creative expression may be captured in words, numbers, notes, sounds, pictures, or any other graphic or symbolic media. The subject matter of copyright is extremely broad, including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, audiovisual, and architectural works. Copyright protection is available to both published and unpublished works.

Every year, millions of Americans create original works - books, music, research and other forms of creative expression. All of these creations are intellectual property, and all of them are protected by copyright. For writers, editors, and publishers, understanding copyright issues is essential, especially now that the production of counterfeit and pirated goods, including written works, has become so prevalent. Indeed, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, more than $650 billion in pirated and counterfeited goods will flood the world market in 2005. Making sure that your publication's property is not among these pirated goods is critical.

Under the 1976 Copyright Act, the copyright owner has the exclusive right to reproduce, adapt, distribute, publicly perform, and publicly display the work. In the case of sound recordings, the copyright owner has the right to perform the work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission. These exclusive rights are freely transferable, and may be licensed, sold, donated to charity, or bequeathed to your heirs. It is illegal for anyone to violate any of the exclusive rights of the copyright owner. If the copyright owner prevails in an infringement claim, the available remedies include preliminary and permanent injunctions (court orders to stop current or prevent future infringements), impounding, and destroying the infringing articles, and monetary remedies.

The exclusive rights of the copyright owner, however, are limited in a number of important ways. Under the "fair use" doctrine, which has long been part of U.S. copyright law and was expressly incorporated in the 1976 Copyright Act, a judge may excuse unauthorized uses that may otherwise be infringing. Section 107 of the Copyright Act lists criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research as examples of uses that may be eligible for the fair use defense. In other instances, the limitation takes the form of a "compulsory license" under which certain limited uses of copyrighted works are permitted upon payment of specified royalties and compliance with statutory conditions. The Copyright Act also contains a number of statutory limitations covering specific uses for educational, religious, and charitable purposes

While all U.S. businesses are vulnerable to IP theft, small businesses are often at a particular disadvantage. This is especially true for writers and small publications - with more than 20,500 magazines and over 7,600 daily and weekly newspapers in the nation, there is a wealth of material for IP thieves to steal. And now that the Internet has made copying and distributing protected material easier than ever before, it is critical that you understand the basics of protecting your original work.

That's why the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, along with other government agencies, is reaching out to small businesses to help them protect their intellectual property. The campaign includes a web site, www.stopfakes.gov (link is external), specifically designed to help individuals and small businesses learn how to protect themselves in all types of intellectual property.

In order to protect yourself from IP theft, it's important to know the basics about your rights. For writers, editors and publishers, this means taking a look at the basics of copyright: what it is, what it protects, and how to secure it. With this information in hand, you should be well prepared to defend yourself and your original works from the threat of IP theft.

For information and assistance on obtaining copyright protections, reach out to an experienced intellectual property attorney at Schwartz Law Firm, P.C. Call our Charlotte, North Carolina, law office at 704-325-6099 or contact us online.

Source: The United States Patent and Trademark Office.