Copyrights – Top 10 Questions


In this article, we’ll discuss 10 of the most common questions associated with copyrights. We obviously can only touch upon a brief amount of information, but these questions should give you at least a good general understanding of some copyright issues.

Next, we’ll go over copyright questions 1 through 3.

Questions 1 – 3

Question 1 – What are the differences between a copyright, trademark, and patent

To answer this question you need to know the definitions of a copyright, trademark, and patent.

In short, a copyright is a legal concept that protects works of authorship (e.g. such as short stories, books, music, plays, choreographies, architectures, movies, etc.) that are fixed in some kind of tangible medium of expression (e.g. on paper, on a recording device, in any kind of fixed material). But a copyright does not protect the actual ideas, procedures, processes, systems, or discoveries in the copyright. For example, if you write a song about love, you cannot copyright the idea of love. Rather, you can only copyright your expression of love in the song.

A trademark is a legal concept that protects words, names, symbols, logos, and devices used in connection with goods or services to indicate the source of those goods and services. In short, a trademark is a source identifier. This means a trademark is a "mark" used for consumers so they can easily identify and differentiate between different products and services in the marketplace.

A patent is a legal concept that grants protections to individuals who create a new invention. Technically speaking, a patent grants the holder of the patent the right to exclude others from making, using, or selling the invention.

It’s important to understand the difference between copyrights, trademarks, and patents because they all have unique rules that govern their creation and use.

Question 2 – How Do You Create a Copyright?

As soon as you take some work of authorship and put it into a fixed tangible medium of expression you’ve created a copyright! In other words, copyrights are automatically created by the author. For example, if you write a short poem on piece of paper right now, you’ve created a copyright! That’s it. You don’t have to technically do anything else.

However, if you want to protect your work, it’s generally a very good idea to register your copyright with the United States and Patent Trademark Office. Why? Because if you don’t and someone else steals your work it may be very difficult and costly (e.g. you’ll likely have to hire a lawyer) to prove that you were the original owner of the work! Plus, registration of a copyright gives the copyright owner many other great benefits.

Question 3 – What Cannot Be Protected by Copyright?

Some works which cannot be protected by copyright include:
  • Titles, phrases, names, symbols, slogans, etc. cannot be copyrighted. Why? Because these types of works generally fall under trademark law. In other words, you’d likely be better off creating a trademark.
  • Ideas, concepts, discoveries, processes, procedures, etc. cannot by copyrighted. Why? Because these types of works generally fall under patent law. In other words, you’d like be better off in filing for a patent.
  • Works that cannot or have not been put into a fixed tangible medium. For example, you likely could not copyright a poem you write in the sand next to the beach because the ocean water will wash it away. Or you could not copyright a speech that no one recorded or wrote down. The speech would actually have to be written down on paper, on a computer, or recorded on some kind of device like a movie camera, audio recorder, etc.
  • Anything that is not an "original work" of authorship. What does this mean? Well, you cannot copyright such things as weights, common lists, standard calendars, generic charts, etc. Why? Because the work must be an original work created by the author.
Next, we’ll go over copyright questions 4 – 6.

Questions 4 - 6

Question 4 – How Do I Let Others Know About My Copyright?

You should put others on "notice." This means you should let everyone else know you’ve created this original piece of work. The "notice" should include 3 main elements, including:
  1. The word "Copyright" and a copyright symbol "©";
    • We recommend you use both the word "Copyright" and the symbol for any internet purpose because some web browsers may not be able to show the copyright symbol
  2. The date of publication; and
  3. The name of the copyright owner
For example, assume Larry Mills created a short poem that he posted on the internet in 2009. Larry wants to protect his poem from others misusing it. So, Larry should put others on "notice" about his copyright claim in the following way: "Copyright © Larry Mills 2009"

Question 5 – Should I Put Others on "Notice" About ALL Works I Copyright?

You probably won’t put others on notice on all works that you create. For example, there might be many types of works that you don’t care if others use, such as a few comments on a blog, a simple drawing, etc. However, whenever you create any work in which you want protection, you should definitely create a copyright notice and likely register your copyright with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

Question 6 – How Long Does Copyright Protection Last?

For individuals who create a copyrighted work on or after January 1, 1978, the work is automatically protected for the life of the author plus 70 years. If the work was created prior to 1978, different rules apply. And works published prior to 1923 generally fall into the public domain, which means you can use the work without the owner's permission.

If the copyrighted work was made as a "work made for hire" (i.e. by an employee or independent contractor for an employer), the work is protected for 95 years from publication OR 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter. Please read "Work Made for Hire" and "Work Made for Hire - Top 10 Questions" for further details on issues with works made for hire.

Next, we’ll go over copyright questions 7 – 9.

Questions 7 – 9

Question 7 – Can I Transfer My Copyright To Others?

Yes. You can freely transfer your copyright ownership to others in any way you choose.

A key concept to understand in copyright law is that the copyright owner owns many different rights in the copyright. The copyright owner owns the rights to sell, license, lease, transfer, make derivative works (i.e. make different works off of the original copyrighted work), etc. In other words, a copyright owner owns what many call a bundle of rights in the copyrighted work.

Why does all this matter? Because a copyright owner could license certain rights to one person and other rights to another person. For example, assume Henry owns the copyright to a popular book. Henry could freely license different parts of the material in his book to different people. This is because Henry, as a copyright owner, owns many different rights in the copyrighted material.

Question 8 – What is the Difference Between Copyright Creation and Copyright Registration?

Copyright "creation" occurs when the work is actually made. Copyright "registration" is when the copyright owner registers the work with the United States Patent and Trademark office for federal copyright protection. For example, assume Kelly paints a magnificent portrait of her mom on a canvas. At that moment the painting is made, Kelly automatically owns the copyright to it (assuming she did not create the painting for her employer, in which case her employer would own the painting as a work made for hire).

Next, if Kelly wants to give herself the greatest legal protection she can in the painting, she should "register" the copyright of the painting with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. As you can see, creation is different than registration. But why register the painting if she already owns the copyright? Please read Question 9 below.

Question 9 – What Are the Benefits of Copyright Registration?

There are many benefits to copyright registration (over just claiming copyright ownership), including:
  • Creates a federal record and notice to all to refrain from copyright infringement
  • Copyright infringement lawsuits cannot be filed in federal court until the copyright is registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office
  • Copyright registration creates prima facie evidence (i.e. basic evidence to prove a case) that the registered copyright owner is the true owner of the work, if registration occurs within 5 years of publication of the work. In other words, if you successfully register your copyrighted work others would have the burden in court to show that you are not the true owner.
  • Protects the owner’s interest in the copyright in certain other countries where the United States has created treaties on copyright protection.
  • The ability to collect attorneys’ fees and statutory damages for copyright infringement of the work, as long as the registration is made within 3 months after publication of the work OR prior to infringement of the work. In this respect, it literally pays to register.
Next, we’ll go over copyright question 10.

Question 10

Question 10 – Can I File One Copyright Application for Multiple Works?

This is a common question once someone decides to register a copyrighted work. In short, you can file one application for multiple copyrighted works, but only for certain types of works.

For example, you can register several works together as a "collection" if each of the individual works were created by the same author or at least one author contributed to each of the individual works. For example, you can register a CD with multiple songs on one application and pay only one application fee.

However, you could not register a separate song and separate book on one application. Instead, you’d have to register the song and book separately and pay two filing fees. As of this writing, a single filing fee can be as cheap as $35 for a basic claim that is filed online. However, you may want to consult an attorney to properly file your copyrighted work. Finally, we’ll wrap up this article with some main considerations.


In this article, we covered some of the most common copyright questions. However, keep in mind that this just covers the very basic issues associated with copyright laws.

With that said, copyright issues can be very fact specific, and they may require you to seek advice from a lawyer for your particular situation.

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