Copyright is the right of authors to control the use of their work for a limited period of time. In order to qualify for copyright protection, a work must be “fixed in a tangible medium of expression.” A work must be the result of some creative effort on the part of its author in order to qualify for copyright protection. For works first published after March 1, 1989, an author need not include a copyright notice to gain protection under the law. However, although a notice is not required, it’s helpful if you obtain one. When a work contains a valid copyright notice, an infringer cannot claim in court that s/he wasn’t aware the work was copyrighted. Thus, an author has a greater chance to win a copyright infringement case and spend much less litigating in the process if s/he has a copyright notice.
If a work is created on or after January 1, 1978 then it is protected for a term of the life of the author plus 70 years. However, if the work is a work for hire or is published under a pseudonym, the copyright lasts between 95 and 120 years, depending on the date the work is published.
If you want to take a look at the informational pamphlet on copyright protection provided by the United States Copyright Office, click here. Alternatively, Stanford University maintains a comprehensive copyright/fair use website that will provide you endless information to help you decide if copyright protection is the right route for your product.
A work becomes copyrighted when it is fixed in a tangible medium of expression. There are categories of work that fall under this definition:
- Literary works
- Musical works, including the accompanying words
- Dramatic works, including the accompanying music
- Pantomimes and choreographic works
- Pictorial, graphic and sculptural works
- Motion pictures and other audiovisual works
- Sound recordings
- Computer software
- Architectural works
- Works not fixed in a tangible form of expression (ex. something said but not recorded)
- Ideas, methods, principles and systems
- Titles, names, and slogans
- Works found in the public domain
- Works that are strictly informational and contain no authorship