Copyright – what you should know

Copyright has been a major issue recently. Hopefully many of you saw the blackout of major websites like Wikipedia and took the time to learn more about SOPA and PIPA when they were dominating the headlines in January.

I’d like to give a brief overview of copyright, since so many people ask me about this.

NOTE: To know exactly which rights and how much legal protection you have, you should consult with an attorney who specializes in intellectual property. IP lawyers know the ins and outs of copyright, trademark, and patent law and can tell you much more than I can.

The being said, here are some basic things you should know about copyright.

Copyright protects written works, musical works and lyrics, art, photography, and any other creative or intellectual works that have been put into a physical medium. These works are known as intellectual property – they are the product of one person’s ideas and the product/project in question could not exist without the person(s) that created it. That tangible work is the creator’s intellectual property.

So is my work is copyrighted as soon as I create it?


Unlike with patents, it is not necessary to file for copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office in order to declare your work copyrighted. However, if you intend to sue an intellectual property thief for damages, you will need to have had an official copyright from the Copyright Office before you’re eligible for filing suit. The Copyright Office has a PDF that explains how to obtain copyright and the laws’ protections.

What do I mean by physical medium?

If it’s a work of art, the painting must be on the canvas and not in the artist’s mind. The screenplay must be written down. Music needs to be put to paper or recorded, as do lyrics. The idea is NOT protected. The expression of the idea IS protected.

This is why you see so many similarly-themed movies coming out of Hollywood all at the same time – the idea isn’t protected.

Check out Mirror, Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman. I’m not inserting images of the movie posters because I don’t own the copyright to those images.

Note the differences in:

  1. writers 
  2. scripts
  3. casts
  4. directors
  5. interpretations

Each of these movies is a unique expression of the same idea, which is why each movie is given copyright protection on its own merits.

Why are DMCA and copyright important?

Some of you may remember that I recently had my content stolen. Another blogger copied and pasted entries from one of my old blogs and claimed he wrote it. Thanks to DMCA, I was able to send a take down notice to the operators of the websites where I found my content. I submitted links and dates of both my original work and the infringing work to prove my ownership of the material. Within 12 hours, both sites where I found my content had removed my work and sent warnings to the thief.

Further reading on the subject of copyright:

If you want to get into the nitty-gritty of protections given to intellectual property creators, I suggest you check out  the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) website. WIPO administers two IP treaties, the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property (1883) and the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (1886).

These treaties, in conjunction with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998, grant creators of literary and artistic works copyright protection from the moment the work is created.

Know YOUR rights.

As you can see, intellectual property creators have substantial rights. The real power comes from knowing what those rights are and using them to protect yourself and your work. Writers have tools like Copyscape to help find out where infringed content has been posted. If you know of any programs that protect photographs and artistic works, feel free to share in the comments.

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