Frequently Asked Questions about Copyrights
- A copyright is an exclusive right to reproduce and prepare derivative works of an original work of authorship. When compared with the patent right, a copyright is affirmative in nature because it gives the owner a right to do something other than just preventing other people from doing something.
- A copyright protects the expression of an idea rather than the idea itself.
- Section 102(b) of Title 17 of the United States Code provides “[i]n no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.”
- Date and creation of the work.
- Date of first publication.
- Was the work for hire? Usually this is work done by an employee. If there is an agreement that a work will be treated as a work for hire, the following specially ordered works can become works for hire: a work as a compilation or pre-existing materials, part of a motion picture or audiovisual work, translation, supplementary work, instructional text or answer material, atlases.
- Is this a derivative work? A derivative work is a new version of something else. If the work is merely a variation, the underlying work must be copyrighted. Slight variations do not necessarily need to have separate copyrights, but if there are major changes, a separate copyright may be obtained. However, a new variation of an old uncopyrighted version may not be copyrightable.
- Is the work entirely original, or is it a compilation or collection that has unique qualities because of your arrangement?
- Year of completion.
Note that this list does not include ordinary art or writing, hired out, or architect’s plans made for a client. That work is not “work made for hire.” It belongs to the creator, unless it is assigned to the hiring party.
- The owner is the creator, unless that person was working as an employee and the creation was part of their job. Notice, however, that only applies to employees–others, sub-contractors for example, are treated differently.
- Proper notice has the © symbol of the word “Copyright,” the name of the owner of the copyright, and the date of first publication. The date of first publication is when the work was made public, not when it was created.
- Proper copyright notice should be placed on all works in an obvious place. For designs in clothing, as close to the artwork as possible. For printed publications, on the title page or its equivalent. For software, on the title screen and on any printed material.
- If you hire work out to subcontractors, you have to specifically contract for the copyright and record those rights with the Copyright Office. This is a new development in the law aimed at preventing someone from exploiting the efforts of an artist who never gets paid. Without an assignment or license to use the work, you may not claim it.