Eight Things You Need to Know about Copyright

Eight Things You Need to Know about Copyright

Eight things you need to know about copyrightAs a writer and photographer, I have dealt with copyright issues and questions for nearly all of my professional life. From my first copyright law class in college to daily explanations as a professional photographer, I have needed to keep current with what is happening in the world of copyright and to be able to explain it to my clients and colleagues.

Here are some of the most commonly asked questions I get about copyright.

What is copyright?

A copyright is the means by which legal protection is given to creators of original works of literature and art. This includes music, photography, books, poetry, movies, plays, computer software, architecture, sculpture and other similar creative works. It can also protect the contents of your website.

Copyright does not protect names (including domain names), slogans, titles or short phrases. Those items would need to be trademarked to receive protection. Sometimes it can protect logos. And it does not protect ideas or concepts.

What does it mean when something is copyrighted?

Copyright gives the creator of the work the exclusive right to reproduce, display or perform their work and to authorize who else may do those things. For example, when I take a photograph, regardless of who or what is in it, I have the right to decide who may or may not make copies of that photograph and how they may use it. If a songwriter writes a song, they have the right to decide who may or may not perform or publish that song.

When is a work considered copyrighted?

Any work covered by US law is considered covered the moment it is created. To be eligible to recover statutory damages for copyright infringement, however, the work must be registered with the US Copyright Office. Your work does not have to be published to be protected. It also does not need to have a notice or the little © symbol on it to be protected. For example, a photograph that does not have the © is still protected and cannot be copied or published without the photographer’s permission, even if it is a picture of you.

How long does a copyright last?

While there have been different periods of protection over the years, for works created after January 1978, copyright lasts for the life of the creator plus 70 years. There are some different rules for works copyrighted under a pseudonym or works for hire, but using the above as a rule of thumb is a good starting point for staying out of trouble.

How do I register my copyright?

You can register your work with the United States Copyright Office by mail or online. For complete registration information visit the Electronic Copyright Office.

What is a copyright release?

A release of copyright gives up all rights to a work. While this term is frequently used,  copyright releases are exceptionally rare. Most of the time, when someone refers to a copyright release, they usually mean a usage license.

What is a usage license?

A usage license grants the right to use a specific work while allowing the copyright holder to retain his or her rights. Most usage licenses grant specific permissions and/or may be good for a specific period of time.  Usage licenses can be perpetual or can be for a one-time use, but always leaves the control of the work with the creator.

What do I do if someone uses my copyrighted work without permission?

Call an attorney. Copyright violations are generally protected under civil law, not criminal, but in any case, for specific legal advice, you need to contact an attorney.  Disclaimer: I am not an attorney and I do not play one online. I am not dispensing legal advice. I have an awesome attorney who does that for me. If you’re in business, you should have one, too. 

 For more information on US Copyright law and procedures, visit the Copyright Office online.

Do you have any questions about copyrights or licensing? Leave them in the comment section below.

25 thoughts on “Eight Things You Need to Know about Copyright

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  • September 6, 2012 at 1:52 am
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    Great article, Leslie!

    Reply
  • August 30, 2012 at 1:47 pm
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    Awesome article, This is a great information to take on. This clears up everything about copyright laws. Thanks 🙂

    Reply
  • August 23, 2012 at 7:58 pm
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    Thanks for explaining everything so clearly Marie. It’s definitely something we all need to be aware of as content creators.

    Reply
  • August 22, 2012 at 10:34 am
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    Thank you Marie, great advice again and important to. Ignorance never helps and it is better to be well informed.

    Reply
  • August 22, 2012 at 6:53 am
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    Such a complicated topic and everyone has a different take on it. Thanks for your insight 🙂

    Reply
  • August 22, 2012 at 4:52 am
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    Such a relevant post! Great information…I needed to read this!

    Reply
  • August 21, 2012 at 7:23 pm
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    Love this Marie! Being married to an attorney, I am all too aware of what we can use and not use! Violating copyright laws will drive one into bankruptcy, depending on what it is over!

    Reply
  • August 21, 2012 at 6:02 pm
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    The internet has certainly multiplied the occurrences of copyright infringement exponentially, Marie. And you probably see the greatest number around “borrowed photos.” Although it is a complicated topic, as you say, thanks for providing the basic structure!

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  • August 21, 2012 at 4:28 pm
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    Great article Marie Leslie. I’ve been doing a lot of investigating recently on Copyright and the one thing I’ve found out for sure is that it is a minefield. Laws and rights change not only from country to country but in some instances in the USA from state to state.

    Always ask and get that permission in writing wherever possible is your safest bet.

    One thing I think needs clarifying, as you mentioned you cannot use a photograph, even of yourself without the photographers permission, however with the notable exception of Australia, and certain crowd scenes in public places, the photographer does need you to have signed a model release if they are using your image and you are easily identifiable.

    Reply
  • August 21, 2012 at 3:39 pm
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    Marie, thanks so much for sharing this information about copyrights with us. I know that it has cleared up a lot of questions that I had!

    Reply
  • August 21, 2012 at 2:41 pm
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    VERY useful and helpful info! As we are in the digital informational world now, so many “forget” about copyright laws. Thanks for bringing this back into people’s awareness where it needs to stay!

    Reply
  • August 21, 2012 at 2:20 pm
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    Thank you for the great information. I am learning so much 🙂

    Reply
  • August 21, 2012 at 12:39 pm
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    Thanks for bringing some clarity to an area where there is much confusion. The speed of social media makes it easy to share and hard to know when you are running afoul of the rules when you share someone else’s content.

    Reply
  • August 20, 2012 at 7:17 pm
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    Great minds think alike 😉 I posted today about the importance of protecting your photos online today..

    but glad you covered copyright! So important.

    Reply
  • August 20, 2012 at 8:45 am
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    Hi Marie,
    Thanks for sharing htis wonderful information with us. Iam sure this will help small business like us to understand it in bigger perspective.Will be sharing it with my peers too.

    Thanks,
    Gagan

    Reply
  • August 20, 2012 at 6:42 am
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    Thank you. This is valuable information

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  • August 20, 2012 at 5:09 am
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    Thank you for your clear guidelines here! Copyright can be very confusing! I use other peoples images in my blog and contact them first to get permission. No one has refused as they are usually delighted to have the publicity but I think it’s not just the right thing to do legally it’s a common courtesy!
    I love it when people quote my writing but I do prefer to be asked first!

    Reply
    • August 20, 2012 at 6:26 am
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      You can never go wrong with asking first, Carolyn. This is one of those times that forgiveness is definitely not better than permission. Wise you!

      Reply

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