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What is a Copyright?

A copyright is a type of legal protection, under federal law, for authors of "original works of authorship," meaning literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and other intellectual works. A work need not be published to be protected - an experienced intellectual property attorney can explain this distinction in further detail. The law authorizes a copyright owner to do things such as reproduce his or her work; sell or rent it; or perform the work publicly (such as by releasing songs).

Copyrights protect original works of authorship in a "fixed" tangible form of expression. As long as the fixation may be communicated with the help of a device or machine, the copyright is considered fixed, even if the work is not perceptible. For instance, books, manuscripts, or films are all fixed tangible forms of expression. Categories of copyrightable works include literary works, musical works, pantomimes, sound recordings, architectural works, and even source code. If you are not sure whether the work you have created may be copyrighted, consulting with an attorney specializing in intellectual property law will help you review your options and determine ways to protect yourself.

To secure a copyright, you must simply create the work. This means that the first time the work is fixed in a copy (such as a book, CD, or record) the author has a copyright. If you are going to distribute copies of a work that are visually perceptible (such as a book), your attorney will probably suggest each copy contain all three of the following elements:

1) the symbol c in a circle, or the word "copyright,"
2) the year of first publication of the work; and
3) the name of the owner of the work, or an abbreviation of the name.

These three elements should be visible in such a way that they "give reasonable notice of the claim of copyright." YourOrange County copyright attorney can assist you with the position and form of the copyright notice.

Copyrights have various durations, from life of the author plus 70 years to a fixed 120 years, depending on a variety of factors. The law also gives the owner the ability to transfer a copyright.

Federal copyright protection does not extend to other categories, such as works that have not been fixed (i.e., improvisational speeches that have not been recorded); ideas, procedures, explanations, or methods; and work that is considered "common property" with no original authorship (such as tape measures and rulers).

For more information on how to protect all forms of intellectual property, contact the experienced attorneys at MYERS BERSTEIN LLP today.

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