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Copyright FAQ

What is a copyright?
A copyright is the exclusive right to reproduce or distribute an original work of authorship. Original works of authorship include software programs, photos, text and sounds, as well as other intellectual works. A copyright does not protect ideas, procedures, processes, systems, forms, methods of operation, concepts or principles.

How do I get a copyright?
Since 1989, copyright protection attaches to a work as soon as it is “fixed” in a tangible medium. Copying to a disk or hard drive, or ripping to a CD all constitute “fixation” for the purposes of copyright protection.

Do I need to register my copyright?
Neither publication nor registration is a prerequisite to secure copyright protection. Copyright registration does, however, provide several advantages. Registration is a prerequisite to U.S. copyright owners bringing an infringement lawsuit in the U.S. Registration also provides statutory damages and attorney fees in certain cases.

What is the proper copyright notice?
The Universal Copyright Convention (the UCC), of which the U.S. is a member, dictates that proper copyright notice consist of the symbol © (the word “Copyright” or the abbreviation allowed under U.S. law are not acceptable), the year of first publication, and the name of the copyright proprietor. Example: © 2002 Brett J. Trout. The copyright notice should be permanently placed on copies of the work in a manner that it gives reasonable notice of the claim of copyright under normal usage. Since March 1, 1989 affixation of proper copyright notice is not mandatory in the U.S. Proper copyright notice, however, prevents an infringer from limiting damages by claiming “innocent infringement.”

Who owns the copyright in a work?
Upon fixation, the copyright immediately becomes the property of its author. If an individual creates a work outside of any contractual or employment obligation, the individual is the author. If an individual creates a work as part of an employment obligation or as a “work for hire” the employer is the author. An author can assign the copyright in the work to a third party. In such a case, the third party would own the copyright, but the authorship would not change.

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