Copyright Information

With Frequently Asked Questions

Registering Copyrights for Authors and Artists

For some, registering a copyright is the preferred way to protect what you have created.  Here at Dobbin IP Law, we can help you with the process of registering copyrights just as we have been doing for over 20 years.  We provide professional support so that authors and artists alike can have the best possible protection for their work.

What is a Copyright?

A copyright is a protectable interest granted to an author (or other artist) to protect his or her creative work.  It keeps art work in the form of literature, sculpture, painting, drama, or music from being copied, distributed, performed, or displayed by another person or entity.  Keep in mind, it protects from copying, not independent creation.  It also does not protect ideas, but instead, the expression of those ideas in tangible or appreciable form.  Other things it cannot protect include unrecorded improvisational performances, titles, slogans, and portions of works containing information considered common property or themes.

Copyrights and Patents

Like patents, the ability to protect copyrights comes from Article 1, section 8 of our Constitution.  However, a patent is a grant from the government, and requires a lengthy application process.  A copyright is registered, like sticking your flag on a piece of land.  Registration means the government recognizes your claim and is letting the world know it does.

Copyrights and Trademarks

Copyrights are designed to protect original works of authorship.  A trademark is used to protect logos, as well as the names of businesses, products, and services.  Both are registered rights – basic copyright and trademark rights begin the moment of creation or use, and then are registered with the government to give notice to the world and secure additional rights and assumptions.

Copyrights and Fair Use

In most situations, only the owner of the copyright can reproduce a creative work and authorize others to do the same.  However, there are some limitations.  For example, fair use allows a work to be reproduced for reasons deemed “fair” in our free society such as criticism, reporting, teaching, and research.  When determining whether or not something should be considered fair, the following factors are used:

  • The purpose and character of use, including whether or not it is used for a nonprofit or a commercial purpose,
  • The nature of the copyright,
  • The number of works reproduced in relation to the work as a whole, &
  • The effect of the reproduced work’s use as a market value of the work.

Download a Step-by-Step Guide to Copyrights

Contact an Experienced Copyright Attorney

Please do not hesitate to call us if you have questions regarding your particular project.  We would love to set up your complementary strategy session where we can discuss the particulars of your case and help you with any possible issues.  If you would like answers to more questions about copyrights, please see the FAQ section below.

Frequently Asked Questions About Copyrights

What is a copyright?

A copyright is a protectable interest granted to an author (or other artist) to protect his/her work from being copied by another person or entity.  Bear in mind, it protects from copying, not independent creation.  It also does not protect ideas, but the expression of those ideas in tangible or appreciable form.  Like patents, the ability to protect copyrights comes from Article 1, section 8 of our Constitution.

How do I get a copyright?

Copyrights automatically vest in the author from the moment a work is fixed in some form of tangible or performable medium.

What types of things can be copyrighted?

Any work of art in any form, and art is construed broadly to include about anything that requires creative effort, including the text on this website.

Do I have to register my copyright?

No.  Like trademarks, because a copyright automatically vests in the author, it does not have to be registered to exist.  However, registration provides certain benefits that you, as an author, may wish to have.

What benefits do I get if I register my copyright?

The primary benefit is notice to the world of what you created.  As we said before, copyright does not protect from independent creation.  So, if no one knows what you have done, how can anyone copy you?  That is a second benefit, a presumption that a later author copied your work.  Perhaps most importantly, you cannot sue under Federal copyright law unless your work is registered.  There are others, but these are the big three.

How long does it take to register a copyright?

It depends on what you are attempting to register.  Simple works of visual art may take a few weeks or months.  Movies could take a year or so.

How much is it to register my copyright?

We currently charge $200 to file a copyright registration application. This includes the $55 registration fee, our preparation of samples, the filing of your application, non-substantive office actions, point of contact for the copyright office, continued support in marking and use, and postage (up to $15). If you qualify for the $35 registration fee, we will only charge you $180.

How long does my registered copyright last?

Assuming the work was created after 1978, copyright protection generally lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years.  If it is a work made for hire (for a corporation) or an anonymous/pseudonymous work (where the author cannot be determined) it will last for 95 years from the date of publication or 120 years from the date of creation, which ever is earlier.  As an example, the text of this website has a copyright that will last until 2107 because it was made for a corporation (Dobbin IP Law, P.C.).  If, instead, Geoff Dobbin was a sole proprietor and he created the website himself, it would last as long as he was alive plus 70 years.

What is the difference between a copyright and a design patent?

A design patent is a patent that is granted by the government for a new ornamental design for a useful object.  A copyright is an automatically vested right in some work of art, such as a sculpture.  The design patent lasts for a much shorter period of time (14 years), must be examined and approved by the USPTO and protects the design of the object absolutely (independent creation is no defense).  Copyrights are registered, last longer, but only protect against copying.  Yes, you can have both.

What is "fair use" in copyright law?

Fair use is the idea that certain uses of copyrighted material are allowable in the furtherance of public discussion and debate and for accommodation of our present lifestyle.  There are certain limitations to a copyright holder’s rights explicitly given in U.S. Copyright law (found here, in Chapter 1), including a general fair use exemption given in section 107 for the purpose of “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research….”  Generally, the use must be limited to what is necessary for the purpose.  The US Supreme Court has also determined that “time-shifting” (e.g. the recording of a TV show for later viewing) is also fair use.  There is currently no definitive statement on the “format-shifting” or “space-shifting” of digital and other media.  If you have questions as to whether or not your particular use would be considered “fair use,” please feel free to contact us to discuss your situation.