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Copyright Laws: What is Automatic Copyright Protection?

How Automatic Copyright Protection Benefits Your Work, At Least A Little

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© Jodielee | Dreamstime Stock Photos
© Jodielee | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Did You Know That Your Works are Automatically Protected by U.S. Copyright Laws?

As of January 1, 1978, under U.S. copyright law, a work is automatically protected by copyright when it is created. Specifically, “A work is created when it is “fixed” in a copy or phonorecord for the first time.”

While it is true that under United States law you have certain rights (copyrights) to anything you create that falls into the category of "forms of expressions" covered by copyright laws this law should not be fully relied on for copyright protection or enforcement should you need to take civil action against a copyright infringer.

Additionally, there are many works that are not even covered under this automatic protection law so it is especially important that you understand the differences between copyrights, patents, and trademarks to make sure your slogans, logos, catch words, and other forms of expression are protected.  If you are unsure whether or not your works are protected, or how to register a copyright, it is best to talk to a copyright attorney.

What is the de Minimis Principle and Does it Apply to Copyrights?  What is the de minimis principle? The de minimis principle simply means “some things are just too small to be bothered with.” This principal applies to many areas of law, including copyrights.

Published vs. Unpublished Copyright Protection

For automatic protection to exist you do not have to register with the U.S. Copyright Office, or even have published your work. For unpublished works, however, there must be some form of tangible proof of when you created the “expression” or material, and that it is your creation.  It should also be noted that if you do not formally registered a work with the U.S. Copyright Office, your rights to take legal action against someone who uses your work without your permission will be very limited.

Why and When Should I Register a Copyright?  Are automatic protection laws enough to protect your copyrights? What are advantages to registering a copyright? Learn how the best way to protect your copyrighted works.

Automatic Protection is Not Fool-Proof

But even with an automatic copyright, anyone can contest your rights (or you may need to assert your own rights), so only you can decide whether or not something you created is worthy of formal copyright registration.

Internet plagiarism is very common, especially when it comes to photographs and written content. It is easy for someone to copy photos and content for their own use and simply say they created it first, when in fact they did not. You need to have some way of proving that you are the original creator of the work.

Formal copyright registration serves as more substantial proof that you are the creator (author) of something, and when you created it. Simply putting “Copyright 2008” on a website does not really prove that you actually created the material, and if so, when.  More information can be found in the links below:

How do I Show Something is Copyright Protected?  How can I show something has a copyright? How should I use the copyright symbol? What is the right format to indicate a copyright? How can I check to see if something has a copyright?

Can I Mail Myself Something I Created to Show Proof of Ownership?  Can I seal and mail something to myself to establish proof of a copyright? This practice is often referred to as the “poor man’s copyright.” It is anything but reliable, and may or may not offer evidence in a court or law should legal action result from your claim to ownership.

Ignorance Is Not A Defense Against Copyright Infringement

Sometimes copyright infringement is truly an act of ignorance, but copyright infringers can still be held liable if they take credit for things they did not create.  Unless there was some significant harm done by another who used your works, it is generally considered best practices to send a cease and desist letter asking them to take down or stop using your works.  Although this is not required by law, it may resolve the problem quickly without adding legal costs.

More Information About Sending Cease And Desist Letters

FAQs About Cease and Desist Letters and Settlement Demand Letters - FAQs about cease and desist letters and settlement demand letters. Who can send letters? Do you need an attorney? What is a cease and desist? What is a settlement demand offer? Do you have to pay when you get a settlement demand letter? Also, information about Getty Images demand letters.

Can I Send an Email Cease and Desist Letter?  FAQs About Sending Cease and Desist Order Letters. Is it legal to send an email cease and desist order to someone, or do you have to send it through regular postal service mail?

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