At Branfman Mayfield Bustarde Reichenthal LLP we have been filing, prosecuting and obtaining copyright applications and registrations for over 30 years. We also help our clients by drafting appropriate contracts to protect their copyrights and we enforce our client’s copyrights by taking appropriate legal actions ranging from simple demand letters to filing lawsuits when necessary.

The following are the most commonly-asked FAQs we get:

1. What is a Copyright?

A copyright is the legal right to control the duplication, display, performance, and adaptation of an “original work of authorship” such as a song, book, screenplay, poster, t-shirt design, work of art or computer program. The copyright comes into existence at the time of creation, but it must be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office in Washington, D.C. before you can sue an infringer.

2. What is not covered by copyright law?

Copyright law does not protect titles of songs or films or books, short phrases, ideas or concepts. Copyright law DOES protect your way of expressing your concept, i.e., the way you write your music, words or express yourself on canvas.

3. Should a copyright notice be used?

The law pertaining to copyrights in the United States traditionally required all publicly distributed copies of a work to include a copyright notice in order to avoid the loss of copyright protection by injection into the public domain. The law on this changed several years ago, but it is easier and better, in the long run, to use the proper notice format from the beginning.

4. What is a proper copyright notice?

The proper notice consists of three elements:

a. The word “copyright” or the © symbol;

b. The year of first publication; and

c. The name of the owner of the copyright. For example: © 2015 David P. Branfman

5. Should I use the “All Rights Reserved” language?

The “All Rights Reserved” legend is not required by law. Some people and companies like to add it to emphasize the copyright notice.

6. What notice should be used on later editions or versions?

The law allows the use of the year of first publication of a work for subsequent publications of derivative works or compilations based on the work.

7. When can I put the copyright notice on my work?

No advance permission from the U.S. Copyright Office is required before using a copyright notice. But it is the owner’s responsibility to ensure that the notice is placed on the work.

8. Can the year be omitted from the copyright notice?

In certain cases, the year may be omitted from the copyright notice. The year may be omitted when a pictorial, graphic or sculptural work is produced on greeting cards, postcards, stationery, jewelry, dolls, toys or useful articles.

9. When can the entire copyright notice be omitted?

The copyright notice does not have to be placed on unpublished works, but it does not cost anything to use the copyright notice. I, therefore, recommend that the notice be placed even on unpublished works.

10. How big should the copyright notice be?

The copyright notice should appear on the work so that it will give reasonable notice of the claim of copyright and will be permanently legible.

11. What is the proper copyright notice for a sound recording?

The proper form of notice for the contents of a sound recording such as a record, audio tape or compact disc varies slightly:  ℗ 2014 Hitmaker Records.  This notice should be used on the record, tape or disc label itself and the packaging. But the copyright notice for the record jacket, graphics, and liner notes is written the same way as for all other copyrights. Thus the packaging should contain two copyright notices: the traditional notice and the special notice for sound recordings.

12. Who is the owner of the copyright?

The owner is not necessarily the author of the work. For example, the owner of the copyright may be the person to whom the author has assigned the copyright (e.g., a publishing company) or the owner may be the author’s employer if the work is a “work for hire”.

13. Should the copyright be registered?

Registering the copyright is the next step. Copyrights are registered with the U.S. Copyright Office in Washington, D.C.   In many jurisdictions, registration of the copyright is required before one can file suit for copyright infringement. Registration should, therefore, be accomplished at the earliest possible date. Sending yourself a copy of your work in the mail does not have any legal effect; nor does submitting your work to a third party such as The Writer’s Guild.