Entrepreneurs developing new and original commercial products commonly ask whether it is necessary to register a copyright in order to protect their intellectual property. While technically a registered copyright is not necessary to claim a degree of protection, registering a copyright offers a stronger form of legal protection over your intellectual property and provides numerous benefits under federal law.
A copyright is available for any “original work of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression.” 17 U.S.C. § 102(a). Such original works include literary works, musical works, motion pictures, pictorial, graphic and sculptural works, among others. However, copyrights do not apply to an idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery (which may be the subject of patent law).
Copyright protection automatically attaches the moment an author creates their work in a tangible medium. Thus, even if an author never registers for a copyright with the United States Copyright Office their work is still protected. However, registering a copyright for a newly created work offers significant benefits in the event a dispute regarding authorship arises. If an author registers within five years of creating their work, the certificate of registration is prima facie evidence that the copyright is valid. 17 U.S.C. § 410(c).
Further, in order to sue for copyright infringement, a plaintiff/author must register for a copyright before commencing suit. While an author does have the ability to register for a copyright after the infringement occurs but before he or she files suit, waiting until after the alleged infringement occurs sacrifices a claim for statutory damages and attorneys’ fees if successful in the infringement suit. 17 U.S.C. § 412.
Finally, it is not necessary to include the copyright notice © on copyrighted works that are created after 1989, but doing so has the practical benefit of notifying others that the work is protected.
If you or your company has developed an original work, consult with our experienced attorneys to determine the most appropriate way to protect your intellectual property.