Copyright What It Is, How to Obtain It, and What to Do If Your Work is Stolen

Intellectual property theft

If you are an artist, writer, architect, software developer, or other creator, there is a good chance that you have created something and will want to protect others from claiming it as their own. These creations are commonly known as intellectual property, which the American Intellectual Property Law Association defines as “the fruits of mental labor”: that which is created, invented, or developed, whether tangible or intangible. In the case of artistic or other tangible creative works, such as the ones developed by the above innovators, this type of intellectual property is protected in the United States by copyright.

Many creators wish to know how to obtain copyright once they have created something, and sometimes, such as in the event of intellectual property theft, these authors may seek legal counsel. Copyright law can be overwhelming, and intellectual property laws differ depending upon the type of innovation. To help creators understand their intellectual property rights in the United States, here are some frequently asked questions about copyrights, the process for how to obtain copyright, and what to do in the event of stolen intellectual property.

What is a copyright?
Copyright, in the United States, grants creators certain exclusive rights to their creations for the life of the author plus 50 years (after which, it can be renewed by an estate; before 1978, copyrights lasted for 75 years). Copyright is more a group of rights rather than one single right and can include the right to reproduce a copyrighted work or produce a derivative work and to distribute, display, or perform the work in public.

Copyright doesn’t protect ideas, specifically, but the ways in which those ideas are expressed. Often, this comes in the form of a creative work, such as a work of art, a song, a novel, a poem, a film, a software program, and architecture from the blueprints to the building itself. Many people believe that registration is necessary in order to protect this type of intellectual property; however, copyright exists from the moment of a work’s creation in a fixed, tangible form, and registering a copyright is a voluntary process. Also, a work is protected by copyright whether it is published or not published.

What is the process for how to obtain copyright?
As previously mentioned, copyrighting a work is voluntary; it is, however, a good idea for those who are publishing or otherwise displaying their work publicly. For those who are interested in obtaining copyright, the process is fairly inexpensive. The U.S. Copyright Office, which is part of the Library of Congress, handles all copyright requests.

What is the difference between copyrights, patents, and trademarks?
While copyrights protect tangible creative works, patents and trademarks differ entirely. To simplify the distinction, patents relate to tangible inventions as opposed to tangible forms of artistic expression, which are copyrighted. Some people think that copyrights can cover ideas, brand names, logos, or other intangible concepts; however, these things are protected by trademark, not copyright. Patents and trademarks are handled by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

What do I do if if my intellectual property has been stolen?
If your work has been stolen, reproduced, or otherwise used without your permission, it is best to contact a lawyer with an understanding of copyright law. Intellectual property law attorneys will know how to best handle your case. Because all cases are different, contacting an attorney will give you the right advice on the subject.

Have questions about intellectual property and copyright? Speak to a lawyer about your rights, and feel free to leave comments.

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