Copyright Law Basics
There are numerous inexact aspects of U.S. copyright law, but the lack of precision exists to provide broad protection to creators of a vast range of original work. For example, computer programs and certain “compilations” can be registered as “literary works.” Maps and technical drawings can be registered as “pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works.” “Registered” is rather simple. See, Registration of a copyrighted work is rather simple. See Copyright.gov website. But, registration is unnecessary for there to be a copyright.
More specifically, but still inexact, copyright protects human authors’ independently created, at least minimally creative original works of authorship fixed in a tangible form of expression. “Fixed” means a sufficiently permanent medium to allow perception of the work in its original form, reproduced, or communicated or transmitted for longer than a short time. Copyright protection exists immediately and automatically upon creation of a work and the authorship is fixed. Marks like © or the word “Copyright” can be helpful but are not required for copyright protection.
Legal issues concerning copyright protection in the 21st Century frequently arises regarding original work and copying of software. But in addition to software and related technology matter, copyright law with its origins in Article 1, Section 8 of the US Constitution, concerns all original creative works of authorship, such as paintings, drawings, writing, architecture, films, photography, and music. Copyright protection is secured automatically when the author’s work is fixed in a tangible medium of expression for the first time.
The 1976 Copyright Act (and its predecessor, the Copyright Act of 1909) provide copyright owners the exclusive right to pursue many avenues with their works, e.g., make and distribute copies, prepare “derivative” works based upon the original work, and importantly, the right to transfer their ownership (often as a license), and the right to perform or display their work publicly. Copyright owners’ exclusivity generally lasts for the author or creator’s life plus 70 years. the work becomes part of the public domain. Public domain works may be used without permission.
The public policy that underlies the Copyright Act is broad and enduring copyright protection, to motivate creativity by the providing a limited monopoly to allow public access to the fruits or an author or inventor’s creativity, but also to give the public access after the limited period of exclusive control has expired.
In the 21st Century context, it is important to understand the notion that the law requires no notice of copyright protection. Especially since marks like © or the word “Copyright” are helpful, caution is required. When, for example, materials are online, it can be difficult to know if creative material like blog posts, photographs, or videos are copyright protected. Interestingly, digital materials that are stored on a server are likely fixed or tangible, and are therefore presumably copyright protected. Accordingly, one should assume what is found online is protected and seek the poster’s or author’s permission to us it, unless permission is legally unnecessary. Our discussion of the fair use doctrines is here.
The copyright and trademark lawyers at Lubin Austermuehle have over thirty-years of experience defending and prosecuting intellectual property claims for large and mid-size corporations and businesses. We are knowledgeable regarding the changes and complexities of copyright and trademark law. We are committed to fighting for our clients' property rights or defending them against baseless infringement claims at both the trial and appellate court levels. We have successfully defended large corporations in multi-million-dollar copyright or trademark infringement suits and regularly prosecute complex copyright infringement cases for computer software having achieved large six and seven figure settlements for our clients. Conveniently located in Chicago and Elmhurst, Illinois, we have successfully litigated intellectual property, trademark and copyright cases for clients all over the Chicago area. To schedule a consultation with one of our skilled attorneys, you can contact us online or give us a call on our toll-free number at (833) 306-4933 or locally at (630) 333-0333.