A "copyright" is a type of protection that the law gives to original works of authorship, and it is available for published and unpublished works. Technically, a "copyright" is the right to reproduce copies; however, the Copyright Act gives authors of original works many more rights, such as enabling authors to do or authorize (i.e. license) others to do the following things with their copyrighted works:
- Reproduce copies
- Distribute copies to the pubic (such as selling, renting, leasing, or lending)
- Prepare derivative works
- Perform the work in public (audio-visual works), and/or transmit the work via digital audio transmissions
- Publicly display the work
Copyright protection arises once a work has been created in a fixed medium. Works that exist only in your head aren't protected by copyright law; however, once you write your story, paint your picture, take a photograph, or record your music – it's protected regardless of whether you have published it.
However, in order to secure the full panoply of remedies afforded by the Copyright Act, it greatly benefits authors to register their works with the U.S. Copyright Office.
So, what's the benefit of registering your work?
- You won't have to register it before you sue the infringer. That's right, the doors to the federal courthouse are closed to unregistered works of U.S. origin.
- A public record of your claim. If you're calling "dibs" on a particular work, it sure helps to have proof of when you first called "dibs." And, if your copyright has been registered before or within 5 years of publication, you have strong evidence (a/k/a prima facie evidence) that your copyright is valid. Essentially, you make your lawyer's job easier, and if you're paying them $300+ an hour to enforce your rights, the less time it takes for them to do so, the less expensive it will be for you.
- And my personal favorites – statutory damages and attorney's fees. Let's face it, paying your attorney $300+ an hour to litigate your meager but meritorious claim of $500 in actual damages just doesn't make financial sense. It takes time to determine what your actual damages are and to prove how much they are in court. But, by registering your copyright before someone infringes on it, you make it easier for your lawyer to prove your case and, frankly, you make your case that much more attractive to the lawyer you want to take your case. Also, you won't have to go through the added trouble of having to register your copyright before bringing a lawsuit, because you already did it.
There are several remedies available to authors seeking to enforce their copyrights against infringers. However, statutory damages and attorney's fees are only available to registered works. Why limit yourself by relying on a poor man's copyright?
You can register your works at the U.S. Copyright Office at www.copyright.gov, and if you need help navigating the copyright registration process or enforcing your copyrights, you can contact me at (803) 404-6900.