Intellectual Property Law Firm Representing Clients in Patent, Trademark, Copyright, and Trade Secret Matters
If you are looking for a great team who produces big firm results, Cohen IP is your place.
- Phil M.
Los Angeles Copyrights Law Attorneys
Intellectual property comes in many forms, yet it is covered by only a few categories in intellectual property (IP) law. Copyright is one of these categories.
In the US, copyright matters are handled by the US Copyright Office. The US Copyright Office registers copyrights, provides searchable databases of existing registrations and applications, and handles various copyright-related claims.
While it is possible to protect a copyright through a lawsuit, the best way to protect your copyright interests – or to defend against the possibility of being sued for infringement – is to work with an experienced Los Angeles copyright attorney. The team at Cohen IP can help.
What is Copyright?
Copyright is a category of intellectual property rights. To receive copyright protection, a work must be:
- Original. A work is original when it is “independently created by a human author and ha[s] a minimal degree of creativity,” according to the US Copyright Office. Courts generally do not evaluate the quality or depth of creativity, but they do have standards for determining whether creativity exists. Generally speaking, titles, names, lists, and “mere variations” in lettering or coloring don’t meet the minimum creativity requirement.
- Fixed. To receive copyright protection, a work must be “fixed in a tangible medium of expression.” The medium has to be sufficiently permanent to allow others to perceive the work for more than a short time. For example, making a sand castle at the edge of the water is likely not “fixed,” but a photograph of the sand castle would be. Fixation can be either physical (as in a printed photograph) or digital (as in a photo file).
“Copyright” is best thought of as a bundle of rights, not as a single right. Individual rights within the copyright bundle include the right to:
- Reproduce the work,
- Create derivative works based on the work,
- Distribute copies of the work to the public via sale, rental, lease, or lending,
- Perform or display the work publicly, including the playing of sound recordings via analog or digital transmissions, and
- Authorize others to exercise any of the above rights by granting a license.
The exclusive nature of these rights is what makes them valuable. If only the copyright holder has the right to make merchandise related to their new film, for example, the copyright holder can offer to license that right to others in exchange for a fee.
Copyright exists when an original work is fixed in a tangible medium. The bundle of rights expressed by “copyright” can be protected once the original work is fixed.
However, registration of a copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office provides access to additional rights. These include the right to receive statutory damages for infringement, even if you cannot prove actual damages.
Why Do I Need a Copyright?
Original works fixed in tangible media are all around us. Every day, millions of people in the US and worldwide are copyright “users” in the sense that they view or experience creative works that they themselves did not create.
Often, these experiences don’t violate copyright law. Creators often create with the intention that others will eventually see their work.
Yet sometimes, others have access to a creator’s work in a way the creator did not intend – and that violates the creator’s copyright. Common examples include:
- Someone downloaded all of the content and graphics off my website, and everything they downloaded now appears on their website.
- The same floral designs I created for my clothing company were copied and used by other printers without my permission.
- Photographs that I previously took are now being used in a catalog to sell someone else’s product. I never gave them permission to do so.
- The source code of my program is being duplicated in my competitor’s computer program.
- The song I wrote and produced is now being used and distributed by my former band member.
- I want to send a synopsis of my script to a production company, but they want me to sign a release form. The terms are complicated, and I’m not sure if they result in me handing over the copyright to the script itself.
- I registered my manuscript with the Writers Guild of America, but I don’t know if that will protect my work from infringement.
In each of the above scenarios, an original work – website graphics, designs, photographs, source code, song music and lyrics, and written works – has been fixed in a tangible form. Yet, the creators of these works may have trouble enforcing their rights unless they register their copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office.
How Do I Enforce the Rights in my Copyright?
The bundle of rights in copyright exists when an original work is fixed in a tangible medium. Enforcing those rights, however, can be challenging if the copyright is not registered.
In the United States, copyright owners register their copyrights through the US Copyright Office. Registration offers the following benefits:
- Your registration establishes a public record of your copyright, thereby putting the world on notice that you are the owner.
- Copyright registration entitles the copyright owner to file with customs to prevent the importation of infringing copies of a work.
- Registration can be a prerequisite for filing an infringement lawsuit in a US court.
- Your registration certificate serves as prima facie evidence of the validity of your copyright and of the facts stated in the certificate if your work is registered within five years of first publication. In an infringement lawsuit, your registration certificate demonstrates that you own the copyright and can protect any of the rights associated with it. No additional evidence is needed. This right becomes extremely valuable if you are accused of infringement.
- If your work is registered prior to the act of infringement, you can seek statutory damages. According to law, an infringer must pay these damages, whether or not their infringement caused you financial loss. Someone liable for infringement may also be required to pay your attorney’s fees.
- If you don’t register your work before infringement occurs, you can still recover actual damages – the losses you actually suffered from the infringement. However, you’ll still need to register your copyright before filing an infringement claim.
Registering a copyright is typically inexpensive and straightforward. For example, it generally requires less time and money than registering a trademark or patent. The benefits of registering a copyright can easily outweigh the time, money, and effort required to complete the registration. Talk to an experienced Los Angeles intellectual property attorney to learn more.
Does Copyright Apply to Every Creative Work in the World?
No. In the United States, the most commonly applied copyright protection length is the author’s life plus 70 years. The extra 70 years also allow a creator’s heirs to benefit from the work.
Works older than this life plus 70 period, or works created before a certain date, fall into the “public domain.” No one owns the copyright in public domain works. They are publicly available for use, and derivative works can be made from them freely. Certain more recently created works, like those generated by US government agencies, are also generally considered public domain works.
In addition, a current-day creator can choose to license some or all of the rights associated with the work to others free of charge. The most common example of this is the Creative Commons license. Works released under a Creative Commons license are often free for public use, although specific licenses may restrict some rights. For instance, many Creative Commons licensed works are not licensed for commercial use.
What Works Fall Under Copyright Law?
Not all creative works fall under copyright law. Created processes, for instance, don’t qualify for copyright protection. Inventions typically fall under patent law, while colors, fonts, logos, slogans, jingles, and even signature smells all fall under trademark law.
Here are several examples of items that receive copyright protection and may be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office.
- Fiction nonfiction manuscripts
- Computer programs
- Poetry contributions to collective works
- Advertising copy
- Reference works
- Bound or loose-leaf volumes
- Secure tests
- Single pages of text
- Online works
- Bumper stickers
- Artwork applied to clothing or to other useful articles
- Patterns for sewing
- Artificial flowers and plants
- Reproductions such as lithographs
- Compilations of data or other literary subject matter
- Commercial prints
- Comic strips
- Computer and laser artwork
- Cartographic works
- Original prints
- Wallcovering designs
- Enamel works
- Record jacket artwork or photography
- Greeting cards
- Stained glass designs, etc.
- Needlework and craft kits
To learn more about copyright and protect your works, talk to the Los Angeles copyright attorneys at Cohen IP today. We’ll help you understand your legal rights and protect the original creations you’ve worked so hard to offer the world.
Trademarks are a form of intellectual property rights for elements that identify a product or service’s source.
Patents help those who have developed an invention and seek to protect it.