Copyright FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions about Copyright Protection

Basic Concepts to Help You Protect Your Creative Expressions

In the competitive marketplace, it’s essential that you distinguish yourself and your products/services, so that when prospective customers have a need, they’ll seek you out. That’s one of the principal functions of a trademark or service mark. It indicates the origin of goods or services, and typically carries with it the good will you’ve worked hard to establish.

What is a copyright?

A copyright is a legal tool that does exactly what the name suggests—it gives the owner the right to control the use and copying of a creative work.  Copyrights protect original works of authorship by granting exclusive rights to their reproduction, adaptation, and performance, among others.  A copyright protects the expression of an idea—not the idea itself.

Copyright is used to protect written works (fiction and non-fiction), musical works and sound recordings, plays and theatrical works, performances, pictures and images, graphic design, source code, furniture, architecture, sculpture, and even semiconductor mask designs.


What are the requirements to obtain a copyright?

Copyright protects “original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression.” A work is original when it was independently developed and evidences at least a modicum of creativity.  A work is “fixed” when it is saved, written, applied to canvas, recorded, photographed—memorialized and not ephemeral.  The requirement that copyrights be “fixed” prevents the copyrighting of conversations or expressions of ideas that are not recorded or otherwise memorialized.


How long will a copyright protect my creative work?

The current term of copyright, for works created after 1978, is the life of the author plus 70 years. However, if the work is considered a “work for hire,” the copyright lasts for 120 years from the creation of the work or 95 years after publication, whichever is shorter.


Do I need to file a federal copyright registration to protect my expression of an idea?

No, but it’s a good idea. Copyright exists when a work is fixed. However, it’s to your advantage to register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office. Copyright registration is not expensive and offers a public record of ownership and makes it much easier to pursue and recover damages. In fact, it’s a requirement before you can sue for copyright infringement in federal court.  If you’ve registered a copyright, you can seek “statutory damages” for infringement without having to show actual monetary losses.


Can I get a copyright on computer software?

What the Copyright Act refers to as “computer programs” is eligible for copyright protection as a literary work.  The idea-expression rule still applies so protection is limited to the expression of the idea (i.e., the selection and arrangement of lines of code) and not the idea itself (i.e., the function performed by the code).   Patents may be available on the functional components of a software program.


Can copyrighted material ever be used without permission?

The Copyright Act provides a “fair use” exception to infringement where the work has been used for purposes such as criticism, comment, teaching, and the like.

“Fair use” is left undefined in the Copyright Act, but four factors are given for evaluating whether a use is fair: (1) the purpose and character of the use; (2) nature of the copyrighted work; (3) amount of the work used in relation to the whole; and (4) effect of the use on the potential market for the copyrighted work.

At BLPLLC, we have more than 20 years of experience handling all matters related to the registration and protection of copyrights. We can walk you through the steps to protect your expression of an idea by obtaining a federal copyright registration.


Contact Boag Law for Experienced Copyright Counsel

At BOAG LAW, we have more than 20 years of experience handling all matters related to the registration and protection of copyrights. We can walk you through the steps to protect your expression of an idea by obtaining a federal copyright registration.

To set up a confidential consultation, contact our offices online or call us at 212-203-6651 to arrange an appointment. We are available for in-office consultations or videoconferencing.

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