Understanding Copyright

A copyright is similar to a patent in that it protects original work. Copyrights can cover numerous types of creative, intellectual, or artistic works, including plays, movies, books, poems, paintings, and sculpture. Copyright laws also cover materials published on the Internet. In other words, if you create it, you can own it. A copyright protects a work for a limited period of time, after which the work falls into the public domain when anyone can use the material without asking permission from the copyright holder for use without paying royalties, and without violating a copyright law.

Copyright laws vary by country. If a country is a member of the Berne Union for the Protection of the Literary and Artistic Property, also known as the Berne Convention, the country has agreed to provide the minimum protection that the Union requires. Member countries have also agreed to not legally contradict any of the requirements of the Berne Convention.

When you read a copyright, what does it tell you? A copyright will tell you the owner of the copyright's name and the date that the copyright was established. Members of the Berne Convention agree that an author retains rights throughout his or her life, and for 50 years after death. If a book was written in 1990, and the author died in 2000, his or her work would, at minimum, be protected until 2050. Copyrights on other materials vary. For example, a copyright on a photograph will last minimum of 25 years after the death of the photographer.

In the United States, a copyright does not need to be registered with the government. However, registering a copyright can make it easier to claim damages should someone violate your copyright. If you choose to register your work, you must send the required information to the Copyright Office at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. A completed application, a filing fee, and a copy of your work, which will not be sent back to you, will also be necessary. In some cases, you might be required to send more than one copy of your work. It may take up to five months to receive your copyright certificate. In the United States, copyrights last 70 years if the work was created after January 1, 1978. Should you choose to, you can transfer your copyright to someone else by contract. You can also leave copyrights to beneficiaries of your will.

By Laura Evans