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Copyrights, Trademarks, Patents, Trade Secrets… Which applies to my work and how do I protect it?

Inventions, works of art, books, logos, software, choreographies, songs, movies, etc.…  All of these are deemed intellectual property.  As a general rule, any product of the human intellect is considered intellectual property and may be protected under the law.  That is why Intellectual Property Law exists.

When it comes to protecting your rights, it is important to identify your creation and which area of the law covers it.  This article will discuss Copyrights.

What is a Copyright?

A copyright is “the right of literary property as recognized and sanctioned by positive law.”  Black’s Law Dictionary, 2d Ed.  The Copyright Act protects “original works of authorship” that are “fixed in a tangible medium of expression.” U.S. COPYRIGHT OFFICE, COMPENDIUM OF U.S. COPYRIGHT OFFICE PRACTICES § 101 (3d ed. 2021), citing 17 U.S.C. § 102(a).  What does this mean?  It means that great ideas that you might have in your mind are not copyrightable, you must, as we colloquially would say, write them down!  However, you might not need to “write them down” per se since different types of works are covered under copyright law, such as photographs and paintings.  You can also record them using your video or phone camera!  Other types of work that may be covered include, but are not limited to, literary work such as poetry, articles and periodicals, performing arts such as musical compositions, lyrics, sound recordings, scripts, and plays, visual arts such as artwork, illustrations, jewelry, fabric, and architecture, digital content such as computer programs, databases, blogs, and websites, motion pictures such as movies, TV shows, video games, and animation, and photographs including selfies and wedding photos.

Your work must be original!

It may seem obvious, but your work must be original.  It must be created independently, by you.  Also, in order to qualify for copyright protection, your work must have “some minimal degree of creativity” as the Supreme Court stated in Feist Publications v. Rural Telephone Service, 449 U.S. 340 (1991).

Who owns a copyright?

Once a person creates an original work and fixes it in a tangible form of expression, that person is the owner.  Nevertheless, companies and other individuals may also be copyright owners.  Have you heard the term “work made for hire”?  These are works created by an employee within the scope of employment that are owned by the employer, not the creator of the work.  You may also acquire ownership rights through contract assignment, wills and bequests.

These are just the basics of Copyright Law.  If you have any questions or require additional information, please contact our office.  Stay tuned for our next blog on Trademarks!