Copyright Protection

A copyright is the exclusive right to print, publish and sell a work of art or literature that is original.  The Federal Copyright Act of 1976 grants to the author the exclusive right to print, copy, sell or distribute the work; the right to translate, transform or revise the work; the right deliver, record or perform the work; the right to transfer, sell or bequeath the copyright.


Generally, original works created as part of an employee’s job are the property of the employer unless there is a written agreement to the contrary.

Duration of Copyright Protection

A new copyright law became effective on January 1, 1978.  For works created after the effective date of the new law, the author is protected during his lifetime plus an additional 70 years after the author’s death. The copyright protection for a work that was commissioned (as through an employee of a business) or was published anonymously last for between 95 and 120 years, depending on the date of publication.

Existing Works

The Copyright Act of 1976 extends copyright protection for works published after 1922 but before 1978 to 95 years. Any work published before 1923 no longer has copyright protection.

Material Subject to Copyright Protection

In order for a work to qualify for copyright protection, it must be original and the result of creative effort.  An alphabetical listing or compilation, such as a telephone directory, is not subject to copyright protection. Copyright protection extends to books, CD-ROMS, art, films, music, song lyrics, photographs, sound recordings, choreographic works, and the like.

Internet Publication

Information published on the Internet is subject to copyright protection in the same way as other printed material.

Obtaining A Copyright

Copyright protection is available as soon as an original work is created.  It is obtained by placing a valid copyright notice on each copy of the work published and offered for sale and filing a copyright application with The Federal Copyright Office. The U.S. Copyright Offices can be contacted at (202) 707-3000 or online at  The copyright notice should contain either the word “copyright” or the symbol (c), the name of the copyright owner and the year of publication.  The copyright notice should appear on the title page or the page immediately following if the work is a book.  In a periodical, the notice should appear on the title page, on the first page of text, or under the title heading. Registration of the copyright creates a legal presumption that the copyright is valid.

Copyright Infringement

The owner of a copyright that has been violated or infringed upon may file a lawsuit in the Federal Courts for injunctive relief and for damages.  An injunction or restraining order is an order by the court directing the infringing party to stop the reproduction of the infringing material.  The court may order the infringing material destroyed.  The owner of the copyright can also recover damages from the infringing party, including the profits realized as a result of the wrongful use of the copyright.  Reasonable attorney’s fees may also be recovered in the lawsuit.
It may be difficult to prove the amount of actual damages sustained by a copyright owner in an infringement action; in these cases, the copyright owner can elect to accept “statutory penalties” in lieu of actual damages.  The statutory penalties range from $500.00 to $20,000.00.

“Fair Use” of Copyrighted Material

Under the “fair use rule” certain types of unauthorized use of copyrighted materials are permitted, as when the use serves the ends of scholarship or education.  For example, teachers may copy portions of textbooks.  Generally, if a small portion of a copyrighted work is used in a non-competitive way to serve a general public good, such use will generally not be considered to be a copyrighting infringement.

International Copyright Protection

Under the terms of the Berne Convention and the GATT (General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade) treaties, signatory countries offer copyright protection to member nations and allow enforcement of copyright laws in the courts of their respective countries.

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