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Most people are used to seeing the © of the copyright symbol on TV shows, books, and branded goods. However, many don’t realize how encompassing this legal instrument can be.

Copyright simply means that someone has the “right to copy” intellectual property. In most cases, it normally applies directly to the owner of the intellectual asset and/or anyone who has permission to reproduce it.

Knowing how copyright works can be critical, especially for those working with media that might be protected. The consequence of infringing copyright can be serious and far-reaching.

In this article, we’ll explain how copyright is utilized and what it covers. We’ll also examine how copyright compares to other forms of intellectual property protection and what steps can be taken to register a work.

Copyright’s ultimate goal is to protect the owners of intellectual property.

It grants them the right to make money from their creations, receive the correct acknowledgment for their work in its development, and lets them have the final say over how their original works can be used.

This form of legal protection can only be applied to physical, tangible works. Other intangible concepts such as ideas, concepts, and theories that are not physical can require other types of protection such as patents or trademarks.

Copyright can be applied to any of the following original works:

  • Paintings
  • Books
  • Sculptures
  • TV Shows
  • Architectural Designs
  • Poetry
  • Sound recordings
  • Novels
  • Musical lyrics
  • Films
  • Website content
  • Computer Software

In the majority of cases, copyright can only be used with the permission of the copyright holder. However, some cases exist under US law where certain elements of a protected work can be used for free and without the permission of the holder.

Under fair use terms of copyright law there are some loopholes. This allows free reproduction of a copyrighted work depending on:

  • The purpose and character of the reproduction’s use
  • The type of copyrighted work being used
  • The extent of reproduction that’s taken place in relation to the work in its entirety
  • The effect this reproduction has on the market value of the original work

This is very contextual of course and it’s important to tread carefully if you must reproduce any copyrighted material. In most cases, it’s best to seek the permission of the holder first or to seek legal advice before creating a reproduction of a protected work under fair use. This is especially true online.

Laws such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) can give companies a lot of clout in policing the use of online materials. Thus even under fair use, you might encounter pushback when using reproduced work.

Copyright and trademarks have a few similarities. However, in function, they work quite differently from one another.

Trademarks are designed for commercial use, to protect the image and identity of a corporation or business. This allows companies to prevent illegitimate copycats masquerading as them by using their logos, slogans, and branded items without proper permission.

Patents and copyright both protect intellectual property, although in quite distinct ways. Broadly speaking copyright normally covers artistic works, whereas patents are used to protect inventions.

By comparison to copyright, patents normally cover an idea for a shorter period of time. Furthermore, patents normally have a product focus rather than an artistic one. They are more commonly used for industrial processes, machinery, and manufacturing and chemical compositions.

If you seek to profit or receive acknowledgment for a created work it’s best to register copyright on it before distributing it. This isn’t an essential step as creative ownership is normally assumed to be the property of the original author.

Nevertheless, having this extra protection can be helpful. This is especially true if you need to take legal action against anyone using your intellectual property without permission.

To register copyright you will need to complete the following three steps:

  • Complete a copyright application form
  • Pay a fee for its registration
  • Submit a non-returnable copy of the work

Once you have all three ready, this can be submitted to the copyright office. This may be either done physically or online via the electronic copyright office (eCO).

Copyright is normally time-limited. The amount of time it covers will vary depending on the country the rights are registered in. Normally, however, these protections will endure throughout the life of the author and around 50-100 years following their death.

At present when recording copyright today in the US, it automatically applies for the lifetime of the original author plus a subsequent 70 years after that. This is assuming the copyright holder is the creator of the work.

However, the rules vary slightly if the work being registered is from an unknown author or creator. In this case, copyright will apply for 95 years from first publication or 120 years from the original creation (whichever comes first). Additionally, the time will be shorter if the copyright holder is a corporation.

Yes, it is possible to transfer copyright to another owner. This can normally be reflected through a simple contract. It is not necessary to re-register the copyright with the copyright office, however, it can still be useful to create a legal record of the transaction.