The following is meant to provide some information and answers to commonly asked questions regarding copyright protection. It is not intended as legal advice, but is provided as a quick source of information for individuals and companies requiring assistance relating to the protection of literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works within the United States - USA or a country having a copyright treaty with the United States. Examples of such work might include computer software, journal articles, literature, poetry, songs, graphic or visual arts, or architecture. In working to fully protect one's intellectual property interests in the United States, one should always confer with competent attorneys familiar with the law of intellectual property.
Copyright in the USA protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works. The law of copyright, however, does not afford protection to ideas, systems, facts, or methods of operation. These points should be kept in mind when considering whether and how to accomplish one's goals relating to intellectual property protection in doing business in the United States.
Who is Considered to be the Author of a Work? - The creator of the original expression inherent in a work is considered to be the author. The author is also, therefore, the owner of the copyright barring some form of written agreement by which the author has assigned away his or her rights. In the case of a "work made for hire," the employer or party who has commissioned the work is considered to be the author.
What is the Definition of "Publication"? - Under the terminology of copyright in the USA, "publication" does not necessarily mean that a work was set in print by a printing house. What this means, instead, is that a work has been made generally available to the public - by, for example, selling, renting, leasing, distributing, or otherwise sharing the work with the general public. Sharing a work, however, is not completely forbidden. But when a work is "published" in the United States, the author is then legally required to file two (2) copies of the work with the Copyright Office within three (3) months of publication. Certain exceptions do exist with respect to sharing the work with a limited number of individuals for the limited purposes of critique, editing, or seeking a publisher. Since these issues can effect your legal rights, however, questions with regard to even such limited publications should be directed to legal counsel in advance.
What Rights Do I Have if I Do Not Register My Work? - It is not necessary to register a work to be protected under the copyright laws of the USA. Copyright protection exists for all works from the moment of creation, regardless of whether or not they have been published. Moreover, all unpublished works, independent of the nationality of the author, are protected within the United States. If, however, your work is of U.S. origin (or published within both the U.S. and Sweden within thirty (30) days of one another) and is infringed, you will not be able to bring a lawsuit for infringement of the work in the federal courts unless and until the work has been registered with the Copyright Office. Under U.S. copyright law, only with respect to a Non-U.S. work can one bring suit in the United States without first registering the work. However, even if an author of a Non-U.S. work is able to bring suit in the federal courts, failure to register the Non-U.S. work with the Copyright Office will result in an author's loss of the valuable benefits described below.
The Benefits of Obtaining Registration of Your Copyright - Registration of a work with the Copyright Office provides the owner of the copyright with valuable protections. It provides both a public record of their copyright and a certificate of registration. Equally as important, in lawsuits brought to enforce a copyright, if registration of a work takes place within five (5) years of publication, the registration will be considered to be prima facie evidence of a valid copyright. Most importantly, perhaps, the owner of a work registered prior to the institution of an infringement action may sue in federal court and, if the work is infringed, will be eligible to receive both statutory damages and attorneys' fees if successful in bringing a lawsuit.
The Application Process - To apply for copyright protection of a work one must submit to the Copyright Office a completed application and (if unpublished) one (1) or (if published) two (2) non-refundable copies of the work. The current fee for submitting an application for copyright in the USA is $30. On average, barring significant concerns raised by the Copyright Office, one can expect to receive a Certificate of Registration within approximately eight (8) months of the date of filing.
How long is a Copyright Registration Valid and Must a Copyright be Renewed? - Generally, for works created after January 1, 1978, the work will be protected under the copyright laws for a period of time consisting of the life of the author plus an additional seventy (70) years. If the work was made jointly between two (2) or more authors, the work will be protected for seventy (70) years after the death of the last surviving author. In the case of anonymous or pseudonymous works and "works made for hire," the work is protected for ninety-five (95) years from the year in which the work was first published or one-hundred and twenty (120) years from the year in which the work was created, whichever expires first. Registrations of works created on or after January 1, 1978 do not have to be renewed.
Am I Required to Place Notice of Copyright on my Work? - Works published prior to March 1, 1989 are required to bear a notice of copyright or risk losing copyright protection. Since the execution of the Berne Convention by the United States on March 1, 1989, however, it is no longer required to place Notice of Copyright on works to remain protected by U.S. copyright law. Placing such a mark on a work, though, can have important benefits. If the copyright is infringed and clear notice had been placed on the work, with few exceptions, a court will give no consideration to a defense based upon "innocent infringement" for purposes of mitigating actual or statutory damages. Except for unpublished works and phonorecords, proper notice may be given on visibly perceptible copies by placing the symbol ©, the year of first publication, and the name of the owner of the copyright. Unpublished works should also include the term "Unpublished Work."
Can I Obtain Copyright Protection for my Software in the United States? - Computer software can be protected as a "literary work" under the copyright laws of the United States. As stated above, USA copyright laws protect the expression of ideas, but refuse to provide any protection of an idea standing alone. In the field of software, this concept results in protection being available to computer programs, manuals, and other written materials-whether in a form legible to humans or executable by a machine. However, because of this distinction, the law of copyrights in the USA will not provide protection to the basic algorithms and programming methods existing within the software. Even so, protection is afforded to both source code and object code, which like any other writings are protected from literal copying. Moreover, protection has also been afforded on occasion to a number of non-literal aspects of expression in software, such as the "look and feel" of a program as well as aspects of a program's organization, structure, and sequence.