Copyright: The Basics

Copyright: The Basics

When you create a new work, you own the copyright to that work. It happens automatically; you don’t have to do anything other than create an original work. Of course, this abstract idea looks great on paper, but the obvious problem is that who created a work is essentially one person’s claim against another.

Why should I copyright my work?

The fact that you’ve created a work doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re able to prove you’ve created the work — and if you’re not able to prove in a court of law that you created something, you’re not going to be able to sue someone for using it without your permission.

This is where registering a copyright comes in. It’s the only way to legally prove your authorship. You may have heard of the “poor man’s copyright” — the act of mailing a copy of the work to yourself, keeping the package unopened and the postmark intact — but as there is no language to support this, it simply is not a legal defense. Better to copyright your work, allowing no room for argument.

What types of works are eligible for copyright protection?

Any work of original authorship (meaning that it is not an exact copy of another work) that has been fixed in a tangible medium (either physically or digitally; in other words, it is a thing and not just an idea) can be copyrighted. Examples include:

Photographs

Paintings

Compositions

Poetry

Books

Sound Recordings

Audio/Visual Recordings

Software

Computer programs

Not all types of works can be protected by a copyright. Examples of works not eligible for this type of protection include:

Blank forms (graph paper, scorecards, address books, etc.)

Public knowledge (height and weight charts, tape measures, anything taken from common sources)

Ideas

Names

Titles

Short Phrases

Logos (unless there is enough original authorship to warrant protection as two-dimensional artwork; simply setting a name or title in a specific font or giving the letters some sort of artistic treatment does not contain enough original authorship to qualify)

However, you may be able to protect types of intellectual property not eligible for copyright protection in another way, such as with a trademark or a patent. It’s best to discuss this with your legal advisor, if you’re uncertain which type of protection is best for your work.

Can I Protect My Unpublished Work With A Copyright?

Absolutely. Publication was once a requirement, but the current Copyright Act no longer requires that a work be published to receive protection.

Incidentally, recent versions of the Copyright Act have removed one other previous requirement: that the copyright notice and symbol be present on the work. While a good idea to deter would-be copyright infringers, the copyright notice is no longer required to be placed on the work, even if that work is published. Ignorance of a work’s copyright protection is not a legal excuse to violate that protection.