Copyright – What You Should Know

There are many myths and misunderstandings about copyright. Copyright law can be complex, but there are a few basic things you should know about copyright.

Copyright exists as soon as words or an image are put on the page, audio or video tape, a computer disk, or in any medium which is subject to copyright. You do not have to register your copyright, or even put a notice of copyright on your material; however, both are things you should do. You can register your copyright with the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress.

The copyright notice form is: Copyright, year of copyright, owner of copyright. The symbol © may be used in addition to or instead of the word Copyright. Here’s an example:

Copyright © 2006 Cathy B. Stucker

You can’t copyright an idea, only the expression of an idea. It has been said that there are only 14 plots in literature, but there have certainly been more than 14 novels and plays. Certain plot elements are used over and over, but what makes each story unique is the combination of plot elements, characters, settings, conflicts, etc. There may be similarities in plot (idea) but the expression is unique.

You can’t copyright a title. Names, titles, words, and short phrases are not subject to copyright. However, you may be able to trademark your title or a word you made up within your title.

Remedies under copyright law are civil. That means that if someone violates your copyright you can’t have them arrested, you have to sue them. Proving copyright infringement can be difficult and expensive. If someone infringes on your copyright, consult an attorney to determine your rights and the best course of action. Sometimes, a strongly-worded letter from your attorney is all that is needed to resolve the situation.If you are using words or images created by anyone else, be certain you have the right to do so. For example, even if you paid a photographer to take a picture, the photographer owns the rights to the photo unless you have a work for hire agreement.

Both the Library of Congress and the Patent and Trademark Office have lots of free information at their Web sites explaining the basics of copyrights, patents and trademarks.

For more information about copyrights, refer to the Web site of the Library of Congress.

For more information about trademarks, refer to the Web site of the Patent and Trademark Office.

Notice: I am not an attorney, and this should not be considered legal advice. This article contains basic information about United States copyright law. For additional information, please refer to the Library of Congress Web site or consult an intellectual property attorney.

Other copyright resources:

Copyright Cathy Stucker.

Common misspellings: copywrite, copyrite