What Protection Do You Have With Copyright Laws?

You are right to pursue copyright. In the fiscal year of 2020, the U.S. Copyright Office registered nearly 450,000 claims for copyright. These claims covered millions of works, protecting them from infringement.

Yet many small businesses hesitate to register their materials. They don’t understand how copyright laws work. They assume they have protection already, under fair use and other aspects of the law.

Not knowing copyright law can cost you money and even send you to jail. Educate yourself and you can preserve your intellectual property. Here is your quick guide to U.S. copyright law.

Automatic Copyrights

Automatic copyright law provides a base level of protection for your materials. In the United States, your work has copyright just for existing.

It does not matter if your work is in tangible or electronic form. You do not need to publish your work to receive automatic copyright.

But automatic copyright has its limitations. It does not extend to ideas or methods of doing things. No aspect of copyright law protects names.

An individual can sue you and contest your automatic copyrights. To win the lawsuit, you need to show you are the original creator of the work. Timestamped documents and first drafts can corroborate your claim.

Your right to sue someone for infringing your copyright is limited. You can pursue a lawsuit, but a judge may throw it out for being unsubstantiated. Even showing timestamped documents may not be enough.

Plagiarism and Copyright Infringement

Plagiarism and copyright infringement are often confused. Plagiarism occurs when one creator passes off another creator’s work as their own.

Many people think of plagiarism as word-for-word copying, and that can be the case. But an individual can plagiarize another person’s thoughts and ideas.

Under US copyright law, plagiarism is not a criminal or civil offense. It becomes criminal when it crosses into copyright infringement.

Copyright infringement occurs when an individual violates another individual’s exclusive rights. Exclusive rights include the right to reproduce, distribute, and display a copyrighted work. Infringing on these rights usually involves plagiarism.

Copyright infringement is a violation of federal law. An infringer can pay fines and may go to prison if the infringement is extensive.

You may be able to pursue a lawsuit for plagiarism, but you need to prove substantial damages. To sue based on copyright infringement, you need to register your work.

Registering Your Materials

The United States Copyright Office has an online application you can fill out. You can also fill out your application forms in person. This is a good idea for works that you are making models out of, like architectural projects.

Registering your copyright costs money. This can be discouraging, but registration will allow you to collect awards in a lawsuit. Registering your work prior to the date of infringement will let you collect statutory damages, which far exceed the application costs.

The application process is not automatic. The Copyright Office can reject your work if it lacks creative authorship. If it is too derivative of other projects, they will not approve of it.

Wait until you receive a notice of approval before you assume you are protected. Follow some basic legal tips for starting and protecting your small business.

Keep access to your materials limited. Make a plan in the event that your application is not approved. Sign contracts with the people who access your materials so you can track how your materials are circulating.

Fair Use Copyright Law

Fair use limitations allow individuals to use the works of others without approval. All copyrighted works fall under fair use, but a copyright holder can still sue you. The copyright law definition describes four factors in determining fair use.

The first is the character of the use. The use should be transformative, adding something new to the original materials. Taking a clip from a movie and adding commentary over it can count as transformative.

The use can also be for educational purposes. Including a photograph in an article and using it to talk about photographic techniques can count as educational.

The second is the nature of the original work. Judges are more likely to determine fair use for copying factual works than fictional works. Copying factual works helps spread ideas, but copying fictional works can impede free flow.

The third is the amount of copyrighted work used in the new expression. Using a five-second clip from a movie may count as fair use. Uploading an entire movie does not.

The fourth is the effect of the new expression on the market for the original work. Adapting a photograph into a sculpture does not count as fair use. This is because it displaces sales of the original photograph.

Criticism and parody receive great latitude under fair use. It is hard to write a review of a book without quoting from the book. Yet a review is transformative and benefits the public in a way different from the original material.

A parody also requires taking from an original source. By holding it up to ridicule, you transform the material and create a new experience.

How Copyright Laws Protect You

Copyright laws provide you with broad protection. Your material has automatic protections just for existing. You can pursue a lawsuit for plagiarism and copyright infringement.

But you have the most protections when your work is registered with the Copyright Office. Fill out an application as soon as possible.

You can use the works of other people under fair use. But you must transform their works and create a new experience. Criticism and parody are the most respected forms of free use.

The law protects you, but only if you comprehend it. Follow our coverage here on our site for other business and legal guides.