Every business must take diligent steps to safeguard its intellectual property. Copyrights allow companies to protect the expressions of ideas and prevent competitors from stealing, imitating, or exploiting those expressions.
Our Santa Rosa copyright lawyers have over 40 years of collective legal experience and are ready to protect your business’s artistic and literary intellectual property. Whether you need help registering new copyrights or assistance with litigating illegal copies of your company’s work, our team at Merrill, Arnone & Jones, LLP can provide you with one-on-one attention and tailored services. We have an extensive knowledge of all areas of business law and intellectual property law and can provide you with the seasoned and knowledgeable guidance you need to succeed.
What Are Copyrights and How Do They Work?
A “copyright” is a type of intellectual property protection that safeguards the expression of an idea. An idea alone, no matter how detailed, is not eligible for copyright protection. Patents are a different type of copyright protection that can specifically safeguard ideas.
In practice, copyrights are used to protect literary and artistic works – the “expressions” of ideas. Examples of items that are copyrightable include written works (both fiction and nonfiction), paintings, drawings, sketches, schematics, musical recordings, computer code, information contained in emails, dance choreography, films, and other types of video recordings.
To receive copyright protection, a work must:
- Be the original creation of the author
- Have at least some degree of creativity
Works that are not a fully original creation will not receive copyright protection. For example, a piece of “fan fiction” that draws on existing characters and situations the author does not own will not be protected.
A copyright automatically exists and theoretically protects the work as soon that work comes into tangible existence and meets the above requirements. For example, if you produce a film, the individual video recordings you generate throughout protection are each automatically protected by copyright. The final film is also automatically protected by copyright as soon as it is assembled into the finished product.
A copyright’s chain of ownership can vary depending on the circumstances in which the work was created. If an independent individual creates a work, they own the copyright. If an employee creates a work on behalf of their employer – say, a director shoots a film for a movie studio – the employer owns the copyright. Ownership of the copyright can also be transferred.
When someone owns the copyright, they have the exclusive right to distribute the copyrighted work. They also have the exclusive right to exhibit the work publicly and make copies. Copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years. If the copyright is generated through a work for hire arrangement, protection will last for 95 years.
Though copyright protects the work as soon as it is created, it is almost always advisable to formally register the copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. Our Santa Rosa copyright attorneys can evaluate your company’s intellectual property portfolio and advise how to proceed.
Registration of copyrights is not technically required for protections to be enforceable. However, proactively registering your copyright – and thus proving you are the originator and owner of the work – will make protection enforcement significantly easier.
You will need to submit the following elements to the U.S. Copyright Office to register a work:
- A properly completed application
- The appropriate filing fees
- Copies of the copyrighted work
The number of copies of the work you will need to include with your registration package will depend on the type of the work. For unpublished works or works initially published outside the United States typically only need to provide a single copy. If a work has already been published in the U.S., you may need to provide at least two copies.
Works in other mediums also come with additional requirements. When registering a completed film, for example, you must submit a copy of the film as well as a written description of the film.
Many types of copyrightable works can be registered online. Others will require registration-by-mail. Most registrations take between three and nine months to be processed and issued. We can help you prepare your registration package and help you make avoidable mistakes. Our team can also help you field inquiries and requests for additional information from the U.S. Copyright Office.
Copyright Enforcement and Litigation
If your business owns copyrightable works, you should make every effort to protect those works. While you will inherently own copyrights to qualifying works as soon as they are created, taking the extra step to register the protections can ultimately save you time and money.
Another party may attempt to violate your copyright through unlawful duplication, public exhibition, or sales. In any of these scenarios, you must diligently enforce your copyright protections and pursue legal action against the infringing party. Depending on the circumstances, you may be able to recover damages if your company has suffered harm as a result of the infringement.
When your copyrights are already registered, you will generally have a much easier time enforcing your rights. While you still may be able to fight copyright infringement in cases where you have not registered the copyright for a given work, you will first have to indisputably prove that you own the copyright. This process can be expensive and time-consuming.
At Merrill, Arnone & Jones, LLP, we are committed to helping California businesses protect their rights and intellectual property. Our Santa Rosa copyright lawyers can assist you with enforcement efforts and fight all types of infringement. We are familiar with how to efficiently handle copyright litigation and will provide the capable representation your company deserves.