Copyright Basics

What is a copyright?

The legal right to protect usage of your original work is termed Copyright. It’s the exclusive right of the creator to use, distribute or publish their intellectual work (book, research, music, etc).

Copyright provides protection to the intellectual property of the creator and gives them the sole authority to use it in the desired way. The creator can impose conditions for their work’s future usage by third-party and can also transfer exclusive rights to their work on request.

What are the differences between copyrights and trademarks?

Copyright and trademark both work by providing legal protection to your intellectual property or asset and prevent them from unlawful usage. The difference lies in the type of assets they both protect.

Copyright protects artistic or literary works like books, songs, movies, videos or photographs, whereas trademark protects specific phrases, words, designs, colors or symbols which distinguish a company or brand from others.

What are the differences between copyrights and patents?

Copyrights and patents both work for protecting the intellectual property of the creator from unlawful usage by third party.

The difference is copyright protects the expression of ideas and artistic work like books, videos, movies, whereas patent protect inventions like new formulas, machines, innovative composition or system process.

Another difference is copyright automatically occurs as soon as an original work is created and can be claimed even without copyright registration (though we suggest copyrighting your works in case you ever need to claim them). On the other side, a patent must be registered to thwart its illegal usage; unregistered patent work can’t be claimed.

You may learn more about the differences between copyrights, patents and trademarks in our other article where we take a closer look at them.

What is a “poor man’s copyright”?

Poor man’s copyright is an old practice of not registering your original work but mailing it to yourself in a bid to establish the date of possession of your work and to prevent its illegal use in future.

Legally there is no significance of poor man’s copyright and as per law it’s not a substitute for registration.

What is a copyrighted symbol? Do I need to include it in my work?

The copyright symbol, a “c” in a circle ©, is usually placed at the bottom of the media work, song lyrics, video or image to show that it’s copyrighted and the author is its sole owner.

Previously it was compulsory to print copyright notice on the published work to receive protection but as of recently a copyright symbol © is no longer necessary for protection.

Copyright protection

What types of works are protected by copyright?

Copyright protects original intellectual work of the creator which includes literary, artistic, musical, pictorial, graphic, architectural plans, buildings, or dramatic work. Besides books, scripts, videos, songs, movies, recordings it also protects words in musical work and music in dramatic content

Copyright protection incorporates all published and unpublished original content in a tangible medium of expression.

Can I copyright ideas?

No, copyright does not provide legal cover to the ideas and thus can’t protect them from stealing or unlawful usage.

For an idea to be protected from third-party usage, it should be in some identifiable expression which falls under the category supported by copyright.

Can I copyright a website?

A website, more specifically its content, naturally is copyrighted right from the moment it is developed. All the content, visuals, text or graphics displayed on the website is regarded as the intellectual property of the owner even if the website is not registered. Of course, copyright registration for a website is still necessary if you are considering filing a copyright infringement case.

Can I copyright a domain name?

No, a domain name can’t be protected by copyright. Copyright protects the content of the literary or artistic work once it’s completed but does not provide cover to their titles or names, likewise, domain names can’t be copyrighted.

To protect or secure a domain name you desire, contact a registration company and register the domain.

Can I copyright digital files?

Yes, digital files, programs, and backup (archival) files are protected by copyright. The copyright law permits to make an archival copy of the legally owned computer programs only for the backup purpose and does not permit copying other digital work.

How do I copyright a name, title, slogan, or logo?

Copyright does not provide protection to names, titles, slogans or logos. Names, titles, phrases or slogans can be protected in form of trademark.

Besides getting a trademark for a logo, it can also be protected by copyright if it contains sufficient authorship for the artwork.

Copyright registration

Do I have to register with the government to be protected?

No, you don’t have to register with the government to protect your original work. The moment you create it (in tangible form), it becomes your intellectual property with you being the sole owner of it.

But you still have to register your work if you are aiming to file a copyright infringement suit against an offender.

Is the copyright registration good in all countries?

No, “international copyright protection” does not exist. Every country has its own copyright laws, however, most countries offer protection to foreign works under certain conditions that have been simplified by international copyright treaties and conventions.

Several countries like U.S have copyright relations with each other and honor copyrights of citizens of their allies.

When does my work become protected?

The moment an original work is created, it becomes copyrighted. But the work has to be in some “tangible medium of expression” to be protected by copyright.

From tangible medium of expression it means that it should be in a noticeable and visible form which can be observed directly (on paper) or through device (on TV, laptop screen).

How long does a copyright last?

A copyright for published dramatic, musical artistic or literary work lasts for the author’s life plus 70 years.

For films and sound recordings the copyright duration is 70 years from the year end of the publication.

Copyright duration is 95 years for anonymous or pseudonymous work from the year of its first publication.

Do I have to renew my copyright?

No, original work once created and meet the terms of copyright does not need further renewals.

Renewal registration was compulsory for works created before January 1, 1978 after 28 years but as per current laws any work created after or on January 1, 1978 does not require renewal.

Who owns the copyright?

Copyright is usually owned by the creator of the work, but there are some exceptions:

  • If an employee creates a work during his job, it becomes the property of the employer and he owns the copyright.
  • If an independent contractor signs an agreement with an organization and does some work of their literary or audio-visual content, the organization will own the copyright.
  • If the creator sold the copyright, the purchaser will become the legal owner of the content.

Does my work have to be published to be protected?

No, the publication is not necessary for your work to be protected by copyright. The work must be fixed in some tangible medium of expression to be protected.

The copyright law provides indefinite protection to the unpublished literary or artistic work.

Can I copyright someone else’s work?

Yes, though it’s illegal but it’s possible to copyright someone else’s unregistered original work. If someone indulges in such illegal activity he can face serious legal repercussions.

The creator can file a suit against him and with proofs of being the creator of the work he can demand heavy damages from the offender.

Licensing and assignment/transfer of copyright ownership

What is licensing?

In business licensing is referred as the permission which one company gives to other to manufacture its products for a specified license fee.

Different companies license their logos, trademarks, designs, copyrights, and patents to others and give them permission to produce and distribute goods after their name.

What is assignment?

In the assignment of contract, the assignor (who holds the contract) transfers the possession of the property to the assignee. The property transfer incorporates its interests, liabilities, obligations, rights and benefits by signing a deed.

With the contract, it’s now the official duty of the assignee to fulfill all the obligations and rights of the contract.

Are copyrights transferable?

Yes, copyright is your right to your intellectual property and like any other property it’s also transferable.

The owner or creator has the sole authority to transfer his asset to anyone. The copyright ownership can be transferred as a whole or in parts. Like any other property, the copyright can also be bequeathed by will.

Can I license my work to be used by someone else?

Yes, you can allow others to use your intellectual work with a license that sets the guidelines for its usage.

A license can be included to any original work which is offered to be used by third party for free or after paying a fee. The license dictates the users about the limits of usage and the maximum time the license is valid.

Plagiarism and infringement

What are plagiarism and infringement?

Plagiarism is stealing someone’s original work or idea, manipulating it and presenting it as your own creative work without giving due credit.

Infringement is selling someone else’s copyrighted work and commercially exploiting them without taking the necessary permission from them. The infringement incorporates all the illegitimate activities that breach due rights of copyright holders.

Do I need authorization or permission to use someone else’s work?

Yes, if the work is copyrighted you have to take permission from the owner to adapt it, copy or share it.

First of all determine if the content is copyrighted and whether you need the permission to use or not. Then identify the owner and request the permission to use their intellectual work. They might demand some payment, negotiate over that and take written permission to lawfully use their work.

Can I freely use works published on the internet?

No, online content holds the same level of copyright protection as the offline non-digital content. Using, copying or posting freely any work published on the internet without taking permission from the author will come under copyright infringement.

But a small part of the copyrighted work which would be used for reviews, quoting, criticism or for news is referred as “fair use” and copyright law allows this.

What is a “public domain” work?

Public domain is referred to the content or work which is not protected by copyright law. You can freely use this content without taking permission from the creator and won’t be charged for infringement.

The material which is in public domain usually is the one whose copyright has been expired or is the one which is not in tangible form; besides the content published by governments are usually not copyrighted and are free to use.

What can I do if my work is displayed on someone’s website without my permission?

If you find your intellectual property being unlawfully used on someone else’s website you can contact the website’s owner to try and take your work down. If they fail to respond or take it down you may also contact their hosting provider.