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Copyright is a form of protection given to owners/creators of intellectual property that allows the owner the exclusive right to the manufacturer, licence or adapt copies of the intellectual property, usually for a limited amount of time.  Copyright can also extend to the performance or showing of the intellectual property, for some forms of intellectual property/artistic works.



For a work to be protected by copyright law, it must be an 'original; work. How the courts have determined that the degree of originality required for a work to be copyrighted is very minimal. There are some requirements, however, for example, the artwork cannot be a reproduction of an existing work, and the work must be a substantial length (cannot be just a few words or phrases). Therefore, provided you have satisfied the above, any work that you will make will be awarded copyright protection.


What Artworks Does Copyright Protect?


Copyright can attach to a wide array of works, not just the books or movies, in fact, copyright can apply to:


-       Literary Artworks – which would include books, blogs, essays, speech transcriptions, poems etc.

-       Artistic Artworks – like photographs, paintings, sketches, computer-generated artworks, sculptures etc

-       Dramatic Artworks - like plays, scripts, speeches etc.

-       Musical Artworks including sheet music, tab music etc

-       Films and Television Broadcasts – this one is self-explanatory

-       Sound Recordings and Radio Broadcasts which includes recorded music and non-musical sounds like podcasts or radio-plays.


Copyright can even apply to unpublished Artworks, websites and computer programs/code.


What Artworks Does Copyright Not Protect?

While copyright attaches to many artworks, there are still some works that it will not attach to, these include:


-        ideas, concepts, styles, procedures, systems or techniques – It won't protect your idea for a gameshow unless you have written it down;

-       titles, names, short phrases or slogans – many of these will fall under trademark protection instead;

-       facts, news and research – you must incorporate these into another work and then that work will be copyrightable; or

-       Works in the public domain are not copyrightable – this can include works where the copyright has expired on or works that never had copyright attached to them like government documents;


What are the copyright holder's exclusive rights?


According to the Copyright Act of 1976, the owner of a copyright is granted six exclusive rights to deal with the copyright works:

  • To reproduce the work;
  • To distribute the work;
  • To create derivative works;
  • To publicly perform the work;
  • To publicly display the work; and
  • To publicly perform sound recordings utilizing digital audio transmission.


When does work become copyrighted?


A work becomes copyrighted when it is expressed in a tangible medium (i.e. when you write it down). After March 1, 1989 artworks no longer require a copyright notice (© or the word copyright, the author's name and the year of publication). Copyright registration is also no longer needed; however, it is still recommended by the U.S. Copyright Office.  


Copyright is an individual right to the property right in an object, this means that the person may own a book or painting will not also own the copyright in the book or artwork unless it has been specifically assigned to them.



Who owns the copyright?


Copyright is generally owned by the creator of the work. However, this can change depending on several different things, such as the type of work created or how the work was created, for example, by an employee at work.  Copyright ownership can also be transferred to another party as well.


Works can also have multiple copyright owners if there are numerous creators.  In this sense, unless there is an agreement set in place, it is assumed that all owners have an equal share of the copyright. This can even be split even more in-depth with one work having different copyright owners for other parts of one piece (i.e. the soundtrack, script and film of a movie may have different copyright owners)


If the creator or copyright owner dies, copyright passes to the estate or a nominee.

Where the copyright owner or creator cannot be identified, the work becomes orphaned.



In Australia, copyright applies to works as soon as they are created (written down). You do not need to register or publish material for your work to be able to be protected under copyright law.  


How long does copyright last for?


Copyright protections tend to last for 70 years after the death of the creator or after the first year of publication, depending on the works and/or when it was first published. Important to note that if there are several authors, the copyright lasts for 70 years after the death of the last remaining author.


Since 2019, copyright in unpublished works also lasts for 70 years after the death of the creator or 120 years from the date it was created if the creator cannot be found. Before 2019, unpublished works were held to continue in perpetuity.



Should I Register my Copyright?


The U.S. Copyright Office recommends registration of copyright for several reasons.

It outlines that registered works may be eligible for statutory damages and lawyers' fees when litigation arises. There may also be a significantly stronger argument of copyright existing if the alleged infringement occurs after registration.


However, as previously stated, copyright protections commence once you have written you artwork not when it is registered.



History of Copyright in the USA


1790 - Copyright Act


The First Congress implemented the copyright provision of the U.S. Constitution in 1790.


This Act granted American authors the right to print, reprint, or publish their work for fourteen years and to be to renew their copyright protections for another fourteen after the initial registration period expired.


1909 - Revision of the Copyright Act


The revision of the Copyright Act allowed extended copyright protections to all works of and increased the initial registration period to twenty-eight years with a possible renewal of another twenty-eight years.


1976: Further Revision of the Copyright Act

The revision was undertaken for two primary reasons to extend the registration period to 50 years and to widen the scope of fair use for copyright.



If you want to read more about Copyright Law, here are my recommendations


Copyright Law (Eleventh Edition) – Craig Joyce, Tyler T. Ochoa & Michael Carrol


Basically, the most comprehensive book on copyright law that you can find. It includes cases, statutes, insights and is a must-read.


Understanding Copyright Law, Seventh Edition (Understanding Series) 7th Edition – Marshall A. Leaffer



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