Many people wonder how do I get a copyright? The dirty little secret of copyright law is that you do not really need to do anything to obtain a copyright. Once you take that thought in your head and put it to paper you have already obtained a copyright in what you have written. It is not the legal process to register a copyright which gives the author the copyright but the process of creating the work in the first place. Granted, the protections offered from registering your copyright are much greater than the protection which is afforded to unregistered copyrights, however, unregistered copyrights are still able to be protected.
I have this great idea, how do I protect it?
In order to reap the benefits of a copyright you must take the idea and fix it in a tangible medium of expression which is a round about way of saying that you cannot protect what you have created until you take it out of your brain and bring it into the physical world. The way in which you express your idea is what is protected by copyright, not the idea itself. The originality that comes from any intellectual pursuit is that which copyright protection is meant to protect.
Ok, I have written my idea, now no one can use it, right?
Well, yes, and no. Once you have written your work down, no one can directly copy your idea. If someone comes happens to stumble across your writing, and he decides that he is going to claim it as his own, he will not be able to within the bounds of the law. If, however, someone comes up with the same idea without ever seeing your writing then there is nothing which will stop him from writing based on the same idea. Copyright protects original works of authorship but does not prevent two authors from having the same idea.
How do I stop someone from copying something which I have written?
If you choose not to register your work, and you would like to stop someone from copying it, you need to register it. That’s right, although you have a copyright in your work just by fixing it in a tangible medium of expression, you cannot actually sue for copyright infringement if you do not register the work.
So I can wait to register my copyright until someone starts infringing it?
If you can register after you discover infringement why would you pay to register beforehand? Well, this is another facet of copyright law, you can only get statutory damages if you have a registered copyright of a United States’ authored work, which is later infringed, You cannot get statutory damages if you register after the alleged infringement. In order to recover under a suit for Copyright infringement you would need to prove actual damages which can be very difficult and costly. Not only does later registration affect your ability to collect statutory damages, if you don’t register within 5 years of publication the court will no longer accept your registration as prima facie evidence of the validity of the copyright registration.
So in the end, you can have a copyright without going through the registration process but that unregistered copyright may not be of much use to you. It is necessary to register in order to get the protection which most authors believe is given by copyright laws. The fees for registration are minimal, especially when compared to the possible losses in the event that your work is infringed.
If you have any interest in protecting something which you have undoubtedly spent a great deal of time creating then the only prudent action is to register for the protection which you need and deserve as an author. It is exponentially easier to protect your rights before your copyright is infringement than it is after you discover an infringement. You can never have too much protection or too much evidence on your side that you are the true owner and creator of a piece of authorship. The process of registration and the protections of registering a copyright will be covered in a future post.
Do yourself a favor and contact an attorney to find out how to protect your rights by registering a copyright. It is never too early to investigate the best way to keep your creations under your control. We always offer a free initial consultation to anyone that is interested, call us now to start the process of protecting yourself 732-444-6303 (Stone Law, P.C.).