What is a copyright?

Glenn W. Peterson

If you are a California artist, author, composer, photographer, architect, software developer, etc., you should protect your rights to your original works by means of a registered copyright. The United States Copyright Office notes that things such as paintings, books, songs, photographs, architectural drawings and software programs are forms of intellectual property that belong to you because you created them.

A copyright protects your ownership rights against someone copying or otherwise stealing your works and presenting them as their own creations. While your copyright automatically comes into existence the moment you put your original work in a tangible form, whether or not you have actually published it, you are not fully protected unless and until you register it with the U.S. Copyright Office.

Why registration is important

When you put the copyright symbol on one of your original works, you put people on notice that they must not copy, plagiarize or reproduce it. However, should someone do so without your permission, you have no legal recourse against them. In other words, you cannot sue them, or if you do, you have no real proof that you created the work before they claim they created it. Registration solves that problem in the following ways:

  • Your work is a matter of public record.
  • Your work has a certificate of registration that includes a date and unique registration number which you can put on any copies of your work that you give or sell.
  • Your registration is prima facie proof that you created the work and when you created it; however, you must have registered it within five years of the date on which you first published it.
  • You may be able to collect statutory damages as well as attorneys’ fees if you have to sue someone for copyright infringement.

Be aware that you cannot copyright your ideas, only your original tangible works. This information is intended to educate and should not be interpreted as legal advice