Copyright Overview

 

What do copyrights protect?

Copyrights protect original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. Copyrights do not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation.

How is a copyright different from a patent or a trademark?

A Copyright protects original works of authorship, while a patent protects inventions or discoveries. Ideas and discoveries are not protected by copyright law, although the way in which they are expressed may be. A trademark protects words, phrases, symbols, or designs identifying the source of the goods or services of one party and distinguishing them from those of others.

Can I copyright my website?

Yes. The original authorship appearing on a website may be protected by copyright. This includes writings, artwork, photographs, and other forms of authorship protected by copyright.

Can I protect a recipe?

Yes and No. A mere listing of ingredients is not protected under copyright law. However, where a recipe or formula is accompanied by substantial literary expression in the form of an explanation or directions, or when there is a collection of recipes as in a cookbook, there may be a basis for copyright protection. Note that if you have secret ingredients to a recipe that you do not wish to be revealed, you should not submit your recipe for registration, because applications and deposit copies are public records.

Does copyright protect architecture?

Yes. Architectural works became subject to copyright protection on December 1, 1990. The copyright law defines architectural work as the design of a building embodied in any tangible medium of expression, including a building, architectural plans, or drawings. Copyright protection extends to any architectural work created on or after December 1, 1990. Also, any architectural works that were unconstructed and embodied in unpublished plans or drawings on that date and were constructed by December 31, 2002, are eligible for protection. Architectural designs embodied in buildings constructed prior to December 1, 1990, are not eligible for copyright protection.

Can I copyright the name of my band?

No. Names are not protected by copyright law. They are, however, able to be registered as Trademarks. If you would like to register your band’s name as a Trademark visit our Register a Trademark section. Of note, copyrights can protect recordings of songs and music by a band as well as music and written lyrics.

How do I copyright a name, title, slogan or logo?

Copyright does not protect names, titles, slogans, or short phrases. They are, however, able to be registered as Trademarks. If you would like to register a name, title, slogan, or logo as a Trademark visit our Register a Trademark section.

Can non-U.S. Citizens register their works in the United States?

Any work that is protected by U.S. copyright law can be registered. This includes many works of foreign origin. All works that are unpublished, regardless of the nationality of the author, are protected in the United States. Works that are first published in the United States or in a country with which the United States has a copyright treaty or that are created by a citizen or domiciliary of a country with which the United States has a copyright treaty are also protected and may therefore be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office.

Can a minor claim a copyright?

Yes. Minors may claim rights in a copyright, and the Copyright Office issues registrations to minors, but state laws may regulate the business dealings involving copyrights owned by minors.

How long does a copyright last?

The term of copyright for a particular work depends on several factors, including whether it has been published, and, if so, the date of first publication. As a general rule, for works created after January 1, 1978, copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years. For an anonymous work, a pseudonymous work, or a work made for hire, the copyright endures for a term of 95 years from the year of its first publication or a term of 120 years from the year of its creation, whichever expires first. For works first published prior to 1978, the term will vary depending on several factors.

Do I have to renew my copyright?

No. Works created on or after January 1, 1978, are not subject to renewal registration. As for works published or registered prior to January 1, 1978, renewal registration is optional after 28 years but does provide certain legal advantages.