A copyright is essentially a legal right of ownership that arises when an original work of creative authorship is fixed in any tangible medium of expression from which the work can be perceived, reproduced or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a device. In other words, an author has a copyright in their creative expression the moment they create that work (so long as it's placed in a tangible medium), regardless of whether that work is made publicly available. The only requirements are that the creative expression must have been independently created (i.e., not copied from someone else) and must possess a minimal degree of creativity. The exclusive right granted to a copyright owner in most countries is the right to prevent others from reproducing, distributing or performing the work without permission.

Though the phrase "work of authorship" in the definition of a copyright would seem to imply that copyrights are only for novels, poems and the like, in fact, copyrightable works are much broader than this. Copyrightable works range from paintings to photographs, from musical compositions to musical performances, from sculptures to buildings, and from short stories to software.

While a copyright arises automatically the moment a creative expression is placed in a tangible medium, it is very important to note that the author (or owner) has no legal right to enforce that copyright against alleged infringers unless and until the work is federally registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. Furthermore, filing a federal copyright application on a work before it is published (or at least within three months of first publication) preserves your ability to potentially recover statutory damages (which can range from $750 to $130,000 per work infringed, but could also be as high as $150,000 for willful infringers) as well as attorneys fees if your work is ever infringed. Otherwise, if you do not timely file your federal copyright application, proving damages for copyright infringement is much more difficult (and such "actual damages" tend to be far less than what you could otherwise recover via statutory damages).

Unlike patents and trademarks, copyright protection automatically extends to most of the industrialized world through the Berne Convention (a current list of Berne member countries can be found here), among several other international treaties, without having to separately register your copyright in each of those countries. However, it is still advisable to federally register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office before attempting to enforce your copyright against alleged infringers in other countries, so as to better preserve your legal options in at least the U.S. and make of record your claim of ownership in your work.

For more information on copyrights, please visit our Copyright Resources page.

Otherwise, if you are interested in obtaining a federal copyright registration on your work, or simply have further questions, we invite you to call 888-789-5789 or email us to schedule your FREE initial consultation, during which we can explain the copyright process and costs to you in more detail, and also help identify which of your works might be worth registering with the U.S. Copyright Office.