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FAQS: Copyright Law Frequently Asked Questions

Please keep in mind that the information on this Copyright FAQs page is for general information only. There are many nuances, considerations, and exceptions in patent law. For answers for your specific situation, please contact a registered patent attorney. 


What is a copyright?

A copyright protects an original work of authorship that is fixed in a tangible form of expression. The work must possess some minimal level of creativity, and it must have been independently created. For example, the mere idea of a story line or creative concept is not protected by copyright until you write it out or record it.

A copyright owner has the exclusive right to make copies (reproduction right), make changes to the work (derivative or adaptation right), to distribute the work (distribution right), to display the work (display right), and to perform the work (performance right). You can transfer ownership or license one or more of these individual rights when you are the copyright owner.

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 

• Architectural works

Copyright does not protect:

• Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, or discoveries (patent law)

• Works that are not fixed in a tangible form (such as a choreographic work that has not been notated or recorded or an improvisational speech that has not been written down) 

• Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans (trademark law)

• Familiar symbols or designs 

• Mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, or coloring 

• Mere listings of ingredients or contents

When do I have rights?

You have rights the moment you fix your original work of authorship in a tangible medium. For example, for literary works, you have rights the moment you write or type the information out. For music or other audiovisual works, you have rights the moment the music or images are captured in a physical way (disc, file, recording, etc).

Do I have to use the Copyright notice?

No, since March 1, 1989, using the copyright notice is optional, however, it is encouraged whenever practicable. The copyright notice is the copyright symbol + year of 1st publication + copyright owner’s name. For example:

© 2019 Rashauna Norment Law Firm, PLLC

How long does a Copyright last?

In general, for works created on or after January 1, 1978, the term of copyright is the life of the author plus seventy years after the author’s death. If the work is a joint work with multiple authors, the term lasts for seventy years after the last surviving author’s death. For works made for hire and anonymous or pseudonymous works, the duration of copyright is 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter.

When should a Copyright be enforced?

A claim or demand against someone else for copyright infringement must be made within 3 years of the infringing activity.

How can a Copyright be enforced?

You must first register your copyright by filing a copyright application with the U.S. Copyright Office. After your registration is obtained, your attorney will discuss your options with you about sending a cease and desist letter (demand letter) or filing a copyright infringement lawsuit in federal court.

Where can a Copyright be enforced?

Federal courts have jurisdiction over copyright law.

Are there any deadlines associated with filing a Copyright application?

Although you can file a copyright application to register your work at any time, the sooner the copyright application, the better your options when it is time to enforce. Your strongest time for filing a copyright application is while your work remains unpublished. Or, you should file a copyright application within 3 months of first publication so that you can be eligible for statutory damages, and in some cases, attorney’s fees. Or, you should file a copyright application within 5 years of first publication so that the registration can be used as prima facie evidence of the copyright and the facts stated in the certificate.

Do I need permission to use someone else’s work? 

· Yes, unless the work is in the public domain

· Yes, you will need licensing or permission from the rights holder 

· (common source options may be available, with some restrictions such as giving attribution to the author)

· In some situations, use of someone else’s work is considered “fair use” – but don’t blindly consider your use to be “fair use” because this defense depends on the situation.

How do I find the rights holder of Copyright? Some locations to look:

· The Copyright Office’s official website

· An internet search

What kind of licenses are there for Copyright? Examples include

· Merchandise license

· Synchronization license

· Distribution license

· Reproduction license

· Public Performance license

· Display license

· Adaptation license

· Digital Performance license for sound recordings

Our law firm does not handle contingency cases, but we do offer flat fees for various copyright legal services.

Learn More About Our Legal Services

You are uniquely you. You have more questions about protecting and enforcing available rights in your copyrightable work. Whether you are just getting started, ready to start the copyright application process, getting a license, or want to grow your business, copyright attorney Rashauna Norment has experience providing copyright legal services to a variety of clients.