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Steps to Effectively Copyright Your Creative Material

Jan 10, 2023 | Patent Law, Property Law

By Nick Kuhlmann

You’re almost done completing the next Great American Novel, Oscar-winning script, hit-making debut album, or gallery masterpiece. But as you put the final polish on the page, finishing touches to the mixdown, or brushstrokes across the canvas, there’s one critical question every artisan should ask themselves before putting their handiwork out to the world:

Have you copyrighted your creative work?

While it’s true that there is copyright protection in your work as soon as you put pen to paper, more steps are necessary to fully protect your property before publishing. Failure to do so leaves you vulnerable to losing significant rights and legal leverage.

Read on to learn how to copyright your work, and for a brief primer on the ins and outs of copyright law.

First: What Is Copyright, Exactly?

Intellectual property, according to the World Intellectual Property Organization, includes “creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce.”

As such, copyright (aka “author’s right”) is an intellectual property law term that encompasses the rights that a creator has over their literary and artistic works. Copyright grants authors or creators exclusive legal rights to produce and reproduce their work, among other rights. This includes publishing print or copy, or displaying, performing, filming or recording a creative piece of content. 

Here’s the official legal definition: “Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.”

Copyright registration confirms documented ownership over your intellectual property and the products generated from it. You’re the gatekeeper of your creations, and copyright prevents others from borrowing, plagiarizing, stealing or reusing/repurposing your work without your express permission.

What’s Protected, Specifically, Under Copyright Laws?

Here’s a sampling of the types of works copyright protects:

    • Literary works such as novels, nonfiction, poems, articles, essays and the like
    • Musical works such as notation and lyrics
    • Dramatic works, including plays, operas, scripts and screenplays (plus any accompanying music)
    • Pictorial or sculptural works include sketches, drawings, paintings, photographs, sculptures or fabric designs 
  • Architectural work and engineering drawings
  • Motion pictures or sound recordings

What Can’t Be Copyrighted?

There are exceptions to what can be covered under copyright laws. Some creations are not eligible to be copyrighted, such as:

  • Novel, book or movie ideas
  • Commonly-known information
  • Names of businesses, organizations or group names
  • Web domain names
  • A person or individual’s pseudonym (aka a pen or stage name)
  • Slogans, mottos or catch phrases

How to Copyright Your Work

Copyrighting your creative material is remarkably simple in just a few steps:

  1. Create your original work. We recommend filing a copyright application the moment you finish your original work. Remember to keep a record or document of the date you started your work in case a claim on the rights to your work is ever legally contested.
  2. Mark your asset with a copyright notice and/or symbol. This is an optional step, and not legally required, but recommended. Start by marking your work with either the “©” symbol or the word “Copyright” (or alternately, “Copr.”), along with your name and the year of publication. This puts the public on notice that your work is copyrighted.
  3. Make sure to register your work. Not required, but a strongly recommended step, is to officially register your creation with the U.S. Copyright Office. In order to be enforced in Federal Court, a copyright must be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. You can do so through the office’s registration portal. Bear in mind that there are some non-refundable fees associated with copyright registration.

Registration offers the best, most legally defensible protections for a copyrighted work, providing an official public record of your copyright and the ability to file a copyright infringement claim in Federal Court if necessary.

Protect Your Intellectual Property

We’ve covered here the basic fundamentals of copyrighting your creative work, but the area of copyright and intellectual property law can be filled with numerous gray areas depending on your unique situation. Patterson Thuente can help address and answer any questions you may have about your legal rights and what your options are. Get in touch with us today for a free consultation.

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