Ashley Johnson

Ashley Johnson

Patent & Trademark Attorney

The Top 5 Things You Need To Know About A Copyright

Are you an artist? Or have you created a new song, movie, or screenplay? If so, there are several things you should know about copyrights.


What is a Copyright?

A copyright is the exclusive right given to the creator of a creative work to reproduce the work, publicly display the work, perform the work, and distribute copies of the work. A third party that uses the work without permission is infringing your copyright.

The copyright is automatically created as soon as the work is in tangible form. So what is tangible form? A work is in tangible form when it has been saved in a permanent way. For a painting, tangible form is when the painting is completed on a canvas or other medium. For songs, as soon as the song is recorded. When books or other documents are completed, the work is said to be in tangible form. Just remember, as soon as you hit “save” on your file or have your sketch on a piece of paper, the copyright is created.

What Kinds of Things Do Copyrights Protect?

Copyrights protect any original artistic creations. So what does that include? Written works, such as books, poetry, blog posts, screenplays, short stories, and articles can be protected. Visual works are also protected, which include paintings, sculptures, and photographs. Musical works, such as song lyrics, musical compositions, and even choreography can further be protected through copyright.

The copyright will prevent others from copying, adapting, or otherwise using your work without your permission.

How Long Do Copyrights Last?

In the United States, for works created after January 1, 1978, the term of the copyright is the life of the author plus 70 years. So if the creator of the copyright dies in the year 2025, the copyright will expire in the year 2095 (2025 + 70 years).

What if the author is unknown or is anonymous? In this case, the copyright will last for 95 years from the date of original publication, or 120 years from the date of creation – whichever is shorter.

After the copyright expires, the work is in the public domain. This means that anyone is free to use the work, make copies, sell reproductions, or publicly display the work without being subject to copyright infringement.

Is It Important to Register the Copyright?

Although a copyright is automatically created as soon as the work is in a tangible form, there are several advantages when the work is officially registered with the U.S. Copyright Office.

Registering your copyright allows the copyright owner to sue a 3rd party for copyright infringement. If the copyright is not registered with the Copyright Office, you cannot bring an infringement lawsuit against an infringer. It’s also important to note that if the copyright is registered before the infringement occurs or within 3 months of publication, statutory damages of up to $150,000 plus legal fees can be awarded to the copyright owner, even if there are minimal actual damages.

If the copyright is registered, the owner can send a Cease and Desist letter to an infringer with a real threat of further legal action if the infringer refuses to comply.

Further, having a registered copyright will allow the author to more easily assert their rights. If there is a dispute over ownership, having a registered copyright can quickly and easily clear up any confusion as to ownership. In fact, a copyright registration issued within 5 years of the creation of the work is proof that the work is original and is owned by the holder of the copyright registration. Essentially, the copyright registration informs the world that you own the work and all the rights of ownership.

Finally, your copyright registration can be filed with U.S. Customs, which provides protection against the importation of infringing copies of the work.

The U.S. Copyright Office website ( provides basic information on how to register a copyright.

Where and How Should the Copyright Symbol Be Used?

The copyright symbol “©” is commonly used to identify copyright claims. Although not required under U.S. law, it is a good idea to include the copyright symbol on all original works. For example, the copyright notice warns 3rd parties that ownership of the material has been claimed. As a result, potential infringement may be deterred.

The copyright symbol should be placed in a location to easily alert others to the rights of the work. For example, books commonly include the copyright notice on the front cover, back cover, title page, or the page immediately following the title page.

The copyright notice should include the copyright symbol “©”, followed by the year the copyright was created and the name of the copyright holder. For example, the correct copyright notice for the current edition of The Copyright by Stephen Fishman is “© 2019 Stephen Fishman.” If the work is a collection (such as a collection of books), the year that the last book in the collection was created should be used. The copyright holder can be an individual, a business entity, or several different people.


Dogwood Patent and Trademark Law has over 16 years of experience practicing intellectual property law. Call or contact us today to learn more!

If you have questions or would like a free consultation please contact our office in Raleigh at (919) 576 7612 or in Wilmington at (910) 612-7027

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Intellectual property is often our clients’ most valuable asset and raises the most complex issues. Dogwood Law places emphasis on cost-effective counselling of clients. Whether you are just starting or have years of experience we can meet with you for a free consultation.

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