What the Copyright Law Covers
How Do You Get Copyright Protection for Your Work?
What’s Publication?
Registering a Copyright
How Long Does the Copyright Last?
Copyright Infringement
Exceptions to the Infringement Rules
What Can You Do If Someone Violates Your Copyright?

What Copyright Law Covers
Copyright law protects your works, including short fiction, short stories, novels, nonfiction articles, poetry, computer software, software manuals, text advertisements, manuals, catalogs, brochures, and compilations of information, such as databases. Other categories include plays, films, musical and sound recordings and multimedia works. Copyright law doesn’t protect your ideas, facts, words, names, although it may protect the way you express them.

How Do You Get Copyright Protection for Your Work?
You own the copyright to your work, unless you’ve assigned those rights to a third party. Copyright protection arises automatically, without any action taken by you, the moment you fix the work in a tangible form so that it’s perceptible either directly or with the aid of a computer. For a short_story writer, the work becomes fixed as soon as you dictate the story, write it down or type it into your computer. The work must be "original," and not based upon someone else's work. The fact that your short story may be similar to many other stories doesn’t mean it isn’t "original for copyright purposes, so long as you didn’t copy the story from another source.

For works published before March 1, 1989, a formal copyright notice was required to be placed on the work in order to receive copyright law protections. That’s no longer the case. For works published after March 1, 1989, no copyright notice need be placed on the work in order for full copyright protection to apply.

From a practical standpoint, however, you should always place the following notice on your work: Copyright © 2001 by Your Name. All Rights Reserved. Such a notice warns people who view your work that you take copyright issues seriously and may have a deterrent effect upon possible infringers, especially those who are unfamiliar with the intricacies of copyright law. Furthermore, if your work carries a proper notice, in the event of a subsequent infringement lawsuit the defendant will be unable to claim "innocent infringement"...that is, that he or she didn’t realize that the work was protected.

What’s Publication?
According to U.S. Copyright law, publication is the distribution of copies of your work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending. The offering to distribute copies to a group of persons for purposes of further distribution, public performance, or public display constitutes publication. A public performance or display of a work does not of itself constitute publication.
In general, publication occurs on the date upon which copies of the work are first made available to the public.

Registering a Copyright
Why register the copyright? In order to sue someone for copyright infringement, you must first register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office. You may register the work after someone has infringed upon the work, but the registration will only apply to infringements that occur after the registration. However, if you register your work within 90 days of publication, the statutory
damages provisions apply to infringements before and after the actual registration. Registered works may be eligible for statutory damages up to $100,000 and attorney's fees in successful litigation.

Registration is inexpensive ($20 per work registered) and relatively simple. To register, you simply fill out the copyright application and mails it to the U.S. Copyright office with a check and a nonreturnable copy of the work (one copy if the work is unpublished and two copies if it has been published). Works that have been published must be registered within three months of the publication. This is called "mandatory deposit".

Copyright registration is considered effective the day the Copyright Office receives all the materials required for registration. You may copyright the work in a pen name or pseudonym by simply checking the "Pseudonymous" box on the application.

How Long Does the Copyright Last?
Works published or created after January 1, 1978 are not subject to renewal registration. For works published or registered prior to January 1, 1978, renewal registration is optional after 28 years but does provide certain legal advantages.

The length of copyright protection depends on when the work was created, who created the work, and when the work was first distributed commercially. For works created on and after January 1, 1978, the copyright term for works created by an individual is the life of the author plus 50 years.

The term of the copyright for "works for hire" is 75 years from the date of first "publication" or 100 years from the date of creation, whichever expires first.

It’s up to you to enforce the copyright to your works.

Copyright Infringement
In copyright infringement, you must be concerned with avoiding having your work infringed upon and avoiding infringing others' works. Copyright law protects against the copying of the expression of a work, not of your ideas. The difference between the expression and the idea of a work is a difficult concept from a legal perspective. Even if someone does not copy a work exactly, the "expression" of your work may have been copied. If the allegedly infringing work is "substantially similar" to your copyrighted work, copyright infringement exists.

The owner of a copyright really owns a "bundle" of rights. Each stick or right can be sold or assigned separately to a third party. The rights owned by the author are as follows:

The Right to Reproduce the Work: the right to copy, imitate, reproduce, duplicate or transcribe the work in fixed form.

The Right to Derivative Works: the right to modify the work to create a new work. A new work that is based upon an existing work is a "derivative work".

The Right to Distribution: the right to distribute the work to the public by sale, rental, lease or lending.

Public Display Right: the right to show a copy of the work directly to the public (e.g., hanging up a copy of a painting in a public place) or by means of a website, film, slide, or television image at a public place or to transmit it to the public.

Public Performance Right: This is the right to recite, play, dance, act or show the work at a public place or to transmit it to the public.

Exceptions to the Infringement Rules
There are three exceptions to the copyright infringement rules which allow you to reproduce another's work without obtaining a license or assignment of rights: when the use is considered "fair use", when the work is in the public domain, and when the material is not copyrightable.

"Fair use" is a doctrine which states that one may reproduce the copyrighted work for a limited purpose of teaching, reviewing, literary criticism and the like. Without the "fair use" doctrine no one would ever have his or her book reviewed But "fair use" can be tricky. Quoting small amounts from a work have been held to be copyright infringement where the quoted matter was crucial to the work and the copying contributed to the decline in commercial value of the work. On the other hand, entire passages quoted from books have been held to be "fair use". To be safe, ask permission from the author.

Public domain refers to works which are no longer covered by copyright law.

What Can You Do If Someone Violates Your Copyright?
If you find a copyright violation, the first step is to write a letter to the offending party requesting that the infringing material be withdrawn. If the infringing material is located on a website and the owner refuses to remove the offending material you might consider informing the owner's

Internet Service Provider ("ISP") about the situation. If someone violates your copyright, you can sue for damages and for an injunction to prohibit the display or transmission of the copied work. But it’s important for you to pay attention to what’s happening on the Internet in order to protect your creative works.


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