In the United States there are millions of people every year who create original music, research, or write books and other forms of creative expression. These are covered by the term intellectual property and are given protection under copyright laws. If you are a publisher, writer, or editor it is crucial that you are knowledgeable about copyright issues more than ever. With the Internet there has been an enormous increase in counterfeiting and pirating of books, music, and other intellectual property. A report last year from the World Customs Organization indicated over a half a billion dollars in counterfeit and pirated products were put in the marketplace globally in 2005.
Every business in the United States is susceptible to Intellectual Property theft; small businesses are at an even greater risk. Individual writers and owners of small publications offer a large cache of information for intellectual property thieves to grab, and as I pointed out above, the Internet has made it very easy to do. To guard against this happening to you or your company you need to know what your rights are.
A copyright under U.S. law protects authors of “original works of authorship” fixed in any material medium of expression. This can encompass sounds, notes, words, numbers, pictures, and virtually any other media. Works that are covered under copyright law are diverse and include artistic, architectural, literary, dramatic, audiovisual, and musical. A work does not have to be published to be covered.
According to the copyright law passed in 1976, the owner of a copyright has the exclusive right to distribute, reproduce, perform, and display their work. The rights are transferable by the owner who may license them, sell them, donate them to charity or even leave them to their heirs. According to the law, it is not legal to violate any of these rights, and if the owner of a copyright wins in a claim for copyright infringement, the court may order both preliminary and permanent injunctions barring any and all present and future infringements and may also order the surrender of the offending materials.
Many people think that there is some big process they have to go through in order to obtain a copyright. The fact of the matter is your work is protected by Copyright Law when you create it and it is placed as a copy or recorded the first time. An article you write is protected, as is a song or music whether it is in sheet music, on a CD, or both forms of media. Despite this fact it is still recommended that you register formally with the Copyright Office to establish a public record and give yourself concrete legal protection for any suits filed in court.
A copyright gives you protection for 70 years after your death or if you created the work with another it lasts 70 years after the last surviving author’s death. As far as anonymous works and works that were made for hire, the time is extended to as long as 120 years from the date of creation.
Unfortunately there are no international copyrights to guarantee you copyright protection globally, but most countries recognize the Berne Convention on the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works and/or the Universal Copyright Convention. These are the top international copyright agreements for providing foreign authors with copyright protection. If you are in doubt about whether or not a work you have is protected, be sure to consult with a qualified copyright attorney. That is the only way to be absolutely sure you have all the bases covered.