Posts Tagged ‘Copyright’

Copyright Duration

Tuesday, June 9th, 2020

As discussed in the last post, Copyright exists automatically in an original work of authorship as soon as it is fixed in a tangible medium.

Copyright refers to the six exclusive rights granted to the author of an original work, which are protected by U.S. law. However, again, as discussed, those rights can be enhanced and there are many benefits to registering a copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. This post will discuss the duration of copyright registration, and the various amendments which have been made regarding a copyright’s duration, given the time of publication.

The first post covering copyrights briefly went through the duration of copyright protection for works created on or after Jan. 1, 1978, which encompasses all works registered under the current law, the Copyright Act of 1976. This post will take a closer look at how copyright registrations are affected given their registration date, and what amendments have been enacted since the current law took effect.

There are two separate Copyright Acts, the Act of 1909 and the Act of 1976. While the current law, the Act of 1976, retains the same system as the previous one, there are certain changes. This discussion will begin with the current Act for the sake of relevancy.

There are two separate categories for works that secured federal statutory protection on or after Jan. 1, 1978, which is the date that the current Act was amended. The first category is for works that were created on or after Jan. 1, 1978, and the second category is for works that were in existence but not published or copyrighted on Jan. 1, 1978. The amendment establishes a single copyright term and distinguishes different methods for calculating the duration of copyright. Starting with the first category, for a single author, the Act automatically protects a work that is created and fixed in a tangible medium of expression on or after Jan. 1, 1978, from the moment of creation through the author’s life, plus an additional 70 years. For a “joint work prepared by two or more authors who did not work for hire,” the protection lasts for 70 years after the last surviving author’s death. The duration of copyright protection for works made for hire, anonymous and pseudonymous is the same. The duration of the protection in all three cases is 95 years from first publication, or 120 years from creation, whichever length of time is shorter. However, if the author’s identity of an anonymous work is later revealed in Copyright Office records, the term of protection is the author’s life plus 70 years, similar to a single-author work.

The works in the secondary category, which pertains to those that were in existence but not published or copyrighted prior to the amendment, are intrinsically protected by federal copyright protection. For these works, the protection is calculated the same as for those in the first category. The difference is that works in this category are guaranteed at least 25 years of statutory protection. The law specifically states that “in no case would a copyright in a work in this category have expired before Dec. 31, 2002.” Moreover, if a work in this category was published before Dec. 31, 2002 term is extended another 45 years, or through the end of 2047.

Focusing now on the Copyright Act of 1909, the federal standards for copyright duration are very different than in the current Act because of the renewal term within the 1909 Act. During this Act, federal copyright protection began on the date that a work was published, or for unpublished works, on the date of registration. Unlike the current Act which guarantees protection for an author’s life plus 70 years, or 95 or 120, depending on the authorship, the earlier Act provided protection for a term of 28 years from the date it was first secured. During the final year of the term, the copyright was eligible for renewal. If renewed, it was extended for a second term of 28 years. If a copyright was not renewed, its federal copyright protection would expire during the first term, at the end of the 28th and final year.

For copyrights that were still in existence when the current Act came to be, the 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act increased the previous renewal term by 20 years. Therefore, protection for works secured during the Copyright Act of 1909 has been increased from 56 years, two terms of 28 years, to 95 years, which is a first-term plus a renewal term of 67 years. Therefore, when applying the standards set forth in the Extension Act, all works published in the U.S. before Jan. 1, 1923, are in the public domain.

In conclusion, under the current Copyright Act of 1976, all registered works created on or after Jan. 1, 1978, are protected for the duration of the author’s life plus 70 years, 95 years or 120 years depending on the authorship. Therefore, unlike the rules set forth in the previous Copyright Act of 1909, there is no need to renew a copyright term after 28 years. However, the current Act states that all terms of copyright will run the end of the calendar year in which they expire. For more information regarding the specifics of the amendments made to the 1909 Act, visit https://www.copyright.gov.

What is Not Protected by Copyright

Wednesday, May 27th, 2020

Copyright protection is granted to authors of original works that are fixed in a tangible medium and the protection is automatically granted to an author upon creation of the work. This protection affords the author six exclusive rights to protect his work. Work that can by copyrighted includes literary works; musical works, including any accompanying words; dramatic works, including any accompanying music; pantomimes and choreographic works; pictorial, graphic and sculptural works; motion pictures and other audiovisual works; sound recordings, which are works that result from the fixation of a series of musical, spoken or other sounds and architectural works.

For work to be copyrightable, not only does it need to original, but it must meet a certain minimum level of creativity. While as seen above most works meet these criteria, some works may not meet the necessary level of creativity or are not within the scope of copyright as defined by the law. This post will cover five areas of work that are not copyrightable.  These areas include ideas, methods and systems; names, titles and short phrases; typeface, fonts and lettering; blank forms and familiar symbols and designs.

When it comes to ideas, methods and systems the U.S. Copyright Office states, “any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied.” However, a literary, graphic or artistic description, explanation or illustration of an idea, procedure, process, system or method of operation may be copyrightable so long as it is original and meets the required level of creativity. It is important to understand that only the original expression in the work is copyrightable, not the underlying ideas, methods or systems being detailed.

An example of an uncopyrightable procedure is a recipe. In its most basic form, a recipe is simply a list of ingredients and a set of directions and neither the list nor the directions may be copyrighted. However, a recipe that is creatively written or uses artistic concepts to depict the procedure may be copyrightable. An example is cooking directions written in poetic verse.   The creativity of the poetry would be protectable but there would be no protection for the steps of preparation.   In this case, the portion that is protected is the creative explanation, along with any illustrations or pictures owned by the author. The list of ingredients, bare-bones directions and final products are still not subject to copyright protection.

Names, titles and short phrases are not copyrightable because they do not meet the minimum requirement of original authorship. In this instance, this is where the last series of posts come into play. Individual words and short word combinations may not be copyrighted, even if the word or phrase is novel, distinctive or creates a double meaning. However, these terms may be trademarked if they meet the trademark criteria set forth by the USPTO. According to the Copyright Office, some examples of names, titles or short phrases that are not copyrightable include the name of an individual (including pseudonyms, pen names or stage names), the title or subtitle of a work, such as a book, song or a pictorial, graphic or sculptural work, the name of a business or organization, the name of a band or performing group, the name of a product or service, a domain name or URL, the name of a character, catchwords or phrases and mottos, slogans or other short expressions. If the title of a book is actually the name of a series of books and the name indicates the source of those books, the title can be protected by trademark law even though the title is not subject to copyright.

Copyright law does not protect typeface, fonts and lettering. Typeface refers to a set of letters, numbers or other characters with repetitive design elements that are intended to be used in creating text or other compilations of characters including calligraphy. Since typeface, fonts and lettering are commonly used to create original works of authorship, the Office cannot provide protection to an author trying to establish ownership of any type of lettering, whether it is common or unique. If in a slim set of circumstances, the work may be copyrightable, if the author is able to describe the original aspects of the work and explain how the original work is distinguishable from the typeface characters. Similar to the recipe example above, the decoration or ornamentation may be protectable, but not the underlying material.  Think of an illuminated manuscript.

Similar to typeface, fonts or lettering, layout and design are not copyrightable, because the general layout or format of a book, page, book cover, slide presentation, web page, poster or form is the template for expression, much like how typeface is the basis of expression.

Blank forms, such as timecards, graph paper, account books, diaries, bank checks, scorecards, address books, report forms, order forms, datebooks and planners may not be copyrighted. The aforementioned blank forms are not copyrightable because they are designed to record information and do not convey any information in and of themselves. By contrast, any blank form that incorporates design or creativity that is not standard or functional and meets the minimum level of creativity and original authorship may be copyrighted. However, a blank form itself will never be afforded protection, only the unique portions may be protected.

Lastly, familiar symbols and designs, or a combination thereof are uncopyrightable and may not be registered with the Office. However, if an author incorporates familiar symbols or designs into a larger original work, the work as a whole may be registered if there is a sufficient amount of creative expression. Examples of familiar symbols and designs include, but are not limited to keyboard characters, abbreviations, musical notations, numerals, currency and mathematical symbols, arrows and other coordinate or navigational symbols, common symbols and shapes including playing card characters and the yin yang, common patterns, well-known and commonly used symbols that contain a minimal amount of expression or are in the public domain, including peace symbols, gender symbols or basic emoticons, industry designs such as hazard symbols and familiar religious symbols.

Though the five areas described are not copyrightable, there are certain exceptions in cases that meet the minimum original authorship and creativity requirements. In these cases, when attempting to submit a registration claim, it is imperative to focus on what in the work is copyrightable such as the text, illustrations or drawings. Any work that is simply a template or basis for works of original authorship may never be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office.

Copyright Ownership

Wednesday, May 27th, 2020

The previous post explained that copyright is a type of protection that entitles authors of “original works of authorship” that are fixed in a tangible medium to six exclusive rights.

This post will discuss copyright ownership.  In most cases, the author is the person who created the copyrightable work and puts it in a tangible medium. However, two separate scenarios can occur as well.

In some instances, two or more authors may collectively create an original work, and assuming the intent is to merge the separate contributions into an indivisible and interdependent whole, the authors of the united work become co-owners of the copyright unless otherwise expressed. However, if multiple authors contribute to a collective work, that does not come to form a unitary whole, such as an anthology, each author’s individual contribution is distinct from the copyright ownership of the collective work as a whole. Simply put, in such an instance, each author is granted copyright ownership of his individual work, whereas the authors of a united and indivisible whole co-own the entire work.

In another scenario, “works made for hire,” are an imperative exception to the general rule of copyright ownership. In this case, the original creator is not the author of the work, nor is he the owner of the copyrighted work. Whether a work is made for hire is decided by the facts that exist during the time the work was created.

There are two situations in which a work may be made for hire. First, a work may be made for hire when the work is created by an employee in the course of his or her regular duties. Second, a work may be made for hire when a third-party contributor and a hiring party enter into a written contract that clearly states that the work is to be considered a “work made for hire” and the work is commissioned or specially ordered for use as a compilation, a contribution to a collective work, a part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, a translation, a supplementary work, an instructional text, a test, answer material for a test or an atlas.  Of significance is that an independent contractor, hired for a specially ordered work that is not one of the enumerated types of works, will own the copyright despite a written agreement.  In such cases, the commissioning party must obtain an assignment.

In either work for hire situation, the hiring party that paid for the created work, and agreed to take all the financial risks associated with it, is the owner of the copyright and is entitled to the six exclusive rights that are a product of the ownership. Though these are the situations that may determine a work made for hire, the concept as an entirety can be more complicated and may result in unintended consequences for both parties. A later post will look more closely at the topic and detail the different risks associated with this type of ownership.

In conclusion, generally, the author of an original work fixed in a tangible medium is the copyright owner and entitled to the six exclusive rights that are fixed into ownership. However, a copyright may be co-owned, pieces of a whole, but collective work, may all be separately owned or a work may be created for hire. In any case, there should always be a contractual agreement between all involved parties.

What is a Copyright

Wednesday, May 27th, 2020

The last series of posts served as an in-depth look at trademarks. This next segment of posts will delve into copyrights; starting with what is a copyright.

A copyright is a type of protection granted to authors of “original works of authorship” that are fixed in a tangible medium. An “original work of authorship” is simply an original creation by a human author and possesses at least a minimal degree of creativity. The phrase, “fixed in a tangible medium,” means that the original work of art is captured in a sufficiently permanent medium. A sufficiently permanent medium is any work that can be perceived, reproduced or communicated for more than a small amount of time.

A copyright gives the owner of any copyrighted original work six exclusive rights: the right to reproduce and make copies of an original work; the right to prepare derivative works based on the original work; the right to distribute copies to the public by sale or another form of transfer, including rental and lending; the right to publicly perform the work; the right to publicly display the work; and the right to perform sound recordings publicly through digital audio transmission.

Copyright protection also provides the owner of the copyrighted work the right to authorize others to exercise these rights, subject to certain limitations. The two most common forms of transferring rights are license and assignment. If the transfer is exclusive, it must be in the form of a written agreement that is signed by the copyright owner. If it is a nonexclusive transfer, it does not need to be a written agreement. If any of the six exclusive rights are infringed upon, the owner may bring on a copyright infringement lawsuit to enforce the rights of ownership.

When it comes to what counts as an original work, the categories are not narrowly defined and should be viewed broadly for registration purposes. Examples of copyrightable works include literary works; musical works, including any accompanying words; dramatic works, including any accompanying music; pantomimes and choreographic works; pictorial, graphic and sculptural works; motion pictures and other audiovisual works; sound recordings, which are works that result from the fixation of a series of musical, spoken or other sounds and architectural works.

Copyright protection, like any other form of protection, has a life span. In general, works created on or after Jan. 1, 1978 are protected for the life of the author plus 70 years after death. If the work a collective effort with multiple authors, it is protected for life plus 70 years after the last surviving author’s passing. For “works made for hire,” the work is protected for 95 years from the date of publication, or 120 years from the time it was created, whichever is shorter.

Though copyright automatically exists in an original work once it is fixed in a tangible medium, a copyright owner can enhance the works’ protection further than the six rights above. The most important step is registering the work with the U.S. Copyright Office. A later post will detail the benefits of copyright registration, and another will delve more deeply into the duration of a copyright and how to renew one.

 

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