Copyright protects creative expression when recorded in a medium. For example, books and music recordings are well known examples works protected by copyright. However, your website, the pictures of your products, and the source code that your developers write everyday are protected by copyright as well.
While traditional “media lawyers” may have served as effective copyright counselors in the past, technological innovation now drives many copyright issues. Every year the ongoing Digital Revolution makes it easier and easier for people all around the world to copy and access creative works. However, understanding how to use the legal system to protect those works is a real challenge. We can help you with that. Our attorneys understand copyright, and how to use it to help you and your company achieve your goals. In particular, our attorneys pride themselves on the depth of their understanding of the application of copyright in the face of today’s technological innovations.
Overview of Copyright
Copyright protects the original expression of an author, irrespective of whether that expression is a written book, a painting, a movie, a photograph, a musical composition, an impromptu video recording made with a cell phone, a computer program, and even certain databases. Copyright protection extends to all eligible works that are fixed in any tangible medium of expression and that comprise a minimal quantum of creativity. The bar for creativity is extremely low, and any original work that is more than a bare recitation of facts is likely to qualify.
Copyright grants the right to authors to (1) create reproductions of their works, (2) create derivative works, (3) distribute copies of the works to the public, (4) perform their work publicly, and (5) display the work publicly. Copyright protection exists for a limited time, which, for most works created on or after January 1, 1978, is the life of the author plus seventy years.
Like patent, copyright is strictly a matter of federal law. Accordingly, a suit to enforce a copyright can only be filed in a United States District Court. Prior to filing a suit to enforce a copyright, the copyright holder must register the copyright with the United States Copyright Office. In a suit for copyright infringement, a plaintiff can recover its actual damages and the infringer’s profits. In addition, a plaintiff will typically be awarded an injunction against the infringers continued use of the copyrighted work. In certain circumstances, a copyright holder can also recover statutory damages and attorneys fees depending on when the work was registered with the U.S. Copyright Office.
The Benefits of Registration
Within the United States registration provides a number of powerful benefits. However, it should be noted that registration does not, in and of itself, create a copyright. A copyright is created when an author fixes her work in a tangible medium. Nonetheless, for all practical purposes, the legal system within the United States recognizes only those copyrights that are registered.
One of the most important benefits of registration is also often overlooked; in the United States a suit for copyright infringement can only be filed for a registered copyright. Accordingly, if you intend to enforce your copyright, you must register it. Certain districts require either a granted or denied registration; others only require that the registration be applied for. A granted registration provides the additional benefit of acting as prima facie evidence of validity of the underlying copyright.
In addition, timely registration allows a copyright holder to recover statutory damages, the costs of bringing suit, and attorney’s fees. Briefly, timely registration requires that the work be registered either (1) prior to infringement for an unpublished work, or (2) within three months of publication for a published work. Generally, posting on a website constitutes publication. However, the intricacies of what constitutes publication is beyond a summary like this.
Statutory damages can be very powerful, as they can range from $200 for an innocent infringer to $150,000 for a willful infringer. It should be noted that the typical penalty for willful infringement is $2250 per infringed work. However, in rare circumstances, and for particularly egregious conduct, more will be awarded. Nonetheless, given that in many circumstances numerous works are pirated, statutory damages can be very powerful when it is difficult or impossible to prove actual damages.
The ability to recover attorneys’ fees can make it possible for a cash strapped copyright holder to enforce their rights. In particular, many attorneys will structure cases so that only part of the fees are due until the end of the case, when the remainder will be recovered.
This firm has helped many copyright holders protect their intellectual property, as well as defended numerous copyright infringement cases.