Copyright Law

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Federal Copyright law gives authors, artists, etc. the exclusive right to make and sell copies of their work as well as the right to publicly display their works. Usually these exclusive rights come with a time limit, expiring 70 years after the artist’s death. Copyright is automatic once it has been fixed, meaning that once it has been embodied in a tangible form or medium.

The Copyright Act of 1976 grants exclusive rights to copyright owners, which include:

  1. Reproduction right – the right to make copies of the protected work
  2. Distribution right – the right to sell or distribute copies of a protected work to the public
  3. Derivative works – the right to create adaptations or prepare new works based on the protected work
  4. Performance / Display right – the right to perform or display a protected work in public

Why Should You Copyright Your Work?

Copyrighting your work permits you to sue someone who uses or infringes on your work. If someone violates the rights of a copyright owner, the copyright owner is entitled to file a federal lawsuit that can include the issuing or orders (restraining orders or injunctions) to prevent further copyright violations, awarding of money damaged if and when appropriate, and awarding attorney fees.

Common Legal Defenses For Copyright Infringement:

  1. Statute of limitations defense – too much time has passed between the copyright infringement act and the lawsuit
  2. The copyright infringement is allowed under the fair use doctrine
  3. The copyright infringement was innocent (innocent infringers usually do not have to pay any damages as long as they stop the infringing activity)
  4. The infringing work was independently created and therefore not copied form the original
  5. The copyright owner authorized the use in a license

Trademark Law

Trademarks are used to identify goods and services and to distinguish them from the competition. Trademark law is the legal rules by which businesses protect their distinguishing names, logos, etc. that identify their products and services. In order to acquire trademark rights, you cannot simply create a logo or slogan but must use the trademark in commerce.

Patent Law

Patents allow those who create inventions to prevent others from making commercial use of those inventions without explicit permission from the creator.

The Types of Inventions That Can Be Patented

  1. A process or method that produces a tangible result (ex: computer software)
  2. A machine with moving parts
  3. An article of manufacture (ex: a tire)
  4. A composition of matter (ex: a soap)
  5. An improvement of an invention that fits in one of the above 4 categories

How Do Copyrights Differ From Patents?

Copyrights protect expressive arts, including novels, fine arts, graphic arts, music, photography, software, video, cinema, and choreography. Copyrights are basically what keep one artist from stealing another artist’s creative work.

Patents are associated with processes that are useful in the real world, and while it is possible to get a patent on technologies that are used in the arts, copyrights are really what prevent artists from stealing other artist’s work.

However, copyright law and patent law overlap in the realm of the ornamental design of products. For example, a guitar is both functional (patent law) and has a pleasing visual appearance (copyright law).

How Do Patents Differ From Trademarks?

While patents allow those who create inventions to prevent others from making commercial use of that invention without permission, trademarks are not concerned with how technology is used. Trademarks protect the names of products, services, logos, and other devices (color, sound, smell) that are used to distinguish them from the competition. There usually is no overlap between patent laws and trademark laws, however it is possible to obtain a design patent on an ornamental aspect of a device. For example, the distinct shape of a surfboard could potentially be patented for its design and trademarked to protect its appearance.

Contact us today to get in touch with an experienced copyright attorney!

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