Overview of Copyright Law
Although copyright law is actually quite complicated, let’s begin with a simplistic overview. In short, copyright law protects creative works from being copied by anyone besides the owner of the copyright. Protected works could be videos or films, songs or any type of audio recordings, books or writings, images or drawings, or software. Attaining copyright protection is exponentially easier than attaining patent or trademark protection for various reasons. First among them is the fact that under the current laws of the United States and most countries involved with the United Nations’ WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization), the creator of a new work need not even file a copyright application with a copyright office in order to protect his work from copyright infringement. In other words, if you create an original work, regardless of whether or not you publish it, regardless of whether or not you file the work with the copyright office, and regardless of whether or not you include a “notice of copyright” on your work, your work is still protected by copyright laws (at least to a significant degree). With that said, Web Defense Systems and most intellectual property lawyers would highly recommend both (1) filing with the U.S. Copyright Office and (2) including a notice of copyright on your work. Neither action is expensive or difficult, and both actions will enhance a copyright owner’s ability to protect his intellectual property. Again, this is the simplistic overview of copyright law, not the complete explanation. Please carefully review all of the documents at WebDefenseSystems.com for a more thorough explanation of copyright law.
It is also worth noting that both published and non-published works are eligible for copyright filing. In other words, a journal kept by an individual or a picture you take of a family member is protected by copyright law in basically the same way that a major motion picture produced by a Hollywood studio or a book published by a New York City publishing house is protected. In other words, as soon as an original work is put on paper (or film, email, etc), it is protected by copyright law.
Although the United States Constitution does not specifically use the word “copyright,” the government’s power to enforce copyright law actually began with the Constitution. Article I, Section 8, states in its eighth paragraph that the Congress shall have the power “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” This line is the foundation of all intellectual property law in the United States. Policies have of course been expanded and modified over time, and copyright law in the United States can now be found in U.S. Code Title 17. Most recently updated in 2009, Title 17 can be read by clicking here.