What is copyright? Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (Title 17 of the U.S. Code) to the authors of "original works of authorship," including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic and other intellectual works. Software code is considered a "literary" work and thus subject to copyright protection. A work is "original" if it is created by the author, rather than copied from someone else. To be protected by copyright, a work must also be fixed in a tangible medium (e.g. written on paper, stored on a computer disk, printed on film, etc.).
Exclusive rights granted copyright owners:
The owner of a copyright-protected work has the exclusive right to:
- reproduce or make copies of the work;
- perform the work publicly (in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, and motion pictures);
- display the work publicly (in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic, and pictorial, graphic or sculptural works);
- make "derivative works," which includes adapting the work by updating it, combining it with other works, or otherwise reorganizing it; and
- license or otherwise distribute copies of the work to the public.
What is not protected by copyright: Copyright protects an idea's expression or appearance, but not the subject matter itself. Thus, one may have the exclusive right to make copies of a particular photograph of a bridge (the photograph is the "expression"), but not to prevent others from taking their own photos of the bridge (the "idea"). Copyright also does not apply to the following:
- works not fixed in a tangible medium (e.g. a live improvised skit)
- procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries or devices (as distinguished from a description, explanation or discussion). NOTE: some of these may be protected by patent law
- titles, names, familiar symbols or designs. NOTE: these may be protected by trademark law
- mere listing of ingredients or contents
- works consisting entirely of information that is common property containing no elements of originality (standard calendars, height/weight charts, tape measures, etc.)
- a mere collection of facts (nonfictional names and addresses, times and places etc.)
Who can claim copyright: Copyright protection exists immediately upon fixation of a work of authorship. Publication is not required. Only the author can claim copyright, unless the author has assigned his or her rights to another, such as an employer (see "works made for hire" below). Authors of a joint work are deemed co-owners of a copyrightable work, unless there is an agreement to the contrary.
Works made for hire:
The "works made for hire" doctrine provides that if an employee creates a copyrightable work within the scope of his or her employment, the employer will be regarded as the author (i.e. the owner) and not the employee. The copyright law defines a "work made for hire" as:
- a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment; or
- a work specially ordered or commissioned for use as:
- a contribution to a collective work,
- a part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work,
- a translation,
- a supplementary work,
- a compilation,
- an instructional test,
- a test,
- answer material for a test,
- a sound recording, or
- an atlas, if the parties expressly agree in a written instrument signed by them that the work shall be considered a work made for hire.
Copyright in each separate contribution to a periodical or other collective work is distinct from copyright in the collective work as a whole and vests initially with the author of the contribution.
Copyright duration: For works created on or after January 1, 1978, the exclusive rights granted by the law endure for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years after death. Copyright protection for a joint work prepared by two or more authors who did not work for hire lasts for 70 years after the last surviving author's death. For works made for hire, the copyright lasts 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter.
Obtaining copyright protection As soon as a copyrightable work is created, copyright is granted to the author, regardless of publication, affixation of copyright notice or registration. Nonetheless, it is always a good idea to use a copyright notice on a work, by placing upon it the copyright symbol (©) or the word "copyright," the author/owner's name, and the year of creation. Copyright registration with the U.S. Copyright Office is also not required, but highly recommended. Registration grants the copyright owner greater rights and remedies in infringement litigation. To obtain registration, contact the Copyright Office at http://www.copyright.gov/register/. You will need to submit a complete registration form, a copy of the work, and a filing fee. For professional assistance with copyright registration, licensing and enforcement against infringers, see professional services for a qualified attorney in Maine.