The Basics of American Copyright Law

Federal copyright law generally gives copyright owners exclusive control over their original works of authorship. Copyright protection extends to original works of authorship that are fixed in a tangible medium of expression.

In order to be protected, a work of authorship must possess only a minimal level of creativity. In fact, almost any original work of authorship is sufficiently “creative” to qualify for copyright protection. But, the more creative a work is, the more protection it will be given under federal copyright law.

The law extends copyright protection to a number of different categories of work, including:

  1. Literary works, such as books, magazines, ad copy, and copies.
  2. Musical works.
  3. Pictorial, graphic and sculptural works.

Contrary to a belief held by many lay people, American copyright law offers no protection to short phrases, slogans or titles. The same is true for ideas, procedures, processes, systems, methods of operation, and principles. However, some of these items may be protected by United States trademark or patent laws.

Copyrights can be registered with the United States Copyright Office. Registering a copyright is not required for having a valid copyright. The copyright comes into existence automatically when the work is fixed in a tangible medium of expression. However, if a copyright owner does not register their copyright, they will not be able to recover statutory damages and attorneys’ fees if there is infringement. To qualify for these protections, the copyright owner must register their copyright before infringement of their copyright occurs, or, if the infringement occurs before registration, within 90 days of the date the work is first published.

Copyright law is an extremely complicated area of the law. Anyone who wishes to protect their works of authorship should retain the services of a Michigan business attorney who is experienced in copyright issues and registrations.

Please feel free to contact Michigan copyright lawyer Michael J. Hamblin for more information on how he can help you with your legal needs.

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