Copyright law creates work of original authorship as soon as they are fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright does not protect the substance of a work; it protects the expression only. It does not protect ideas, principles, methods, or theories (however, such items may be subject to protection as patentable material or trade secrets).
Generally, the creator of an expressive work is deemed to own the copyright in the expression. However, if a creative expression is produced in the course of employment, the expression may be considered a “work for hire,” and the employer is generally regarded to be the owner of a work for hire.
The owner of a copyright has several exclusive rights to the work, including the rights to
+ Make copies of the work
+ Distribute copies to the public
+ Adapt the work
+ Display the work publicly, and
+ Perform the work publicly
Copyright protection lasts for a very long time – the life of the author plus seventy years, or – in the case of a work for hire – a fixed statutory term of 95 years.
In addition to the above rights, the owner of a copyright has the authority to license any of the above rights to a third party in exchange for a licensing fee.
Advantages of Registration
Although copyright protection automatically applies upon fixation of a work in a tangible medium of expression, REGISTERING the work with the US Copyright Office offers greater protection than is otherwise available. In an action for infringement, the owner of a registered copyright may be entitled to recover statutory damages and attorney fees upon prevailing. Since these fees may be very large, the threat of attorney fees and statutory damages (in addition to ordinary damages) may deter infringement more effectively than the prospect of having to pay for actual damages alone.
In addition, registering a creative expression may reduce the possibility of infringement by putting the public on notice of the existence of the owner’s copyright.
Copyright registration must precede the filing of a lawsuit for infringement, though not necessarily the infringement itself. In order to recover statutory damages and attorney fees, however, registration must occur before the infringement occurs. Various state law claims may provide protection parallel to that available under Federal copyright statutes; such state claims may include conversion and tortious interference with economic advantage.
In short, since registration puts others on notice of your copyright and significantly increases the penalties for infringement, registering a copyright is a good idea if you have a valuable expression to protect.