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Business Organizations & Transactions FAQ

How can I benefit from copyright protections?

Copyright exists to protect creators and encourage creativity. The copyright holder has a property right in the original work of literature, music, art, photography, film or other creative work. This property interest gives the copyright holder the exclusive right to copy, produce, adapt, distribute, perform and display the work.

A work may be copyrighted if it is an original work of authorship that is fixed in some tangible medium of expression that can be seen, heard or read.

You cannot copyright ideas or facts. You also cannot copyright familiar symbols or designs, like K or L or a smiley face. The following provides some general pointers regarding copyrighted material.

Protected Rights

With a copyright, you control the copying of your creative work and the right to distribute it, display it or perform it. The right to control public performance and display includes activities like staging the musical "Rent" at the local dinner theatre or broadcasting any portion of a tape of a football game at any time without the prior express written consent of the National Football League. But if you want to stage the opera La Bohème, you most likely are not infringing any copyright because the work is so old that it is not protected by copyright laws.

A copyright owner also holds rights to derivative works, such as adapting a novel into a screenplay or reinterpreting a song like the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" in a different musical genre.

You have the right to transfer your exclusive rights or any portion of those rights to another person, but the transfer must be in writing with your signature. Rights to protected material may be given away, put into a trust or given devised in a will. Rights to a protected work also may be "rented" by giving another person a license to use or copy the work.

You may not be able to acquire copyrights to everything you create. For instance, if your job involves creating designs, programs or other works, you are creating a "work for hire." In that case, your employer may own the copyright.

Registering Your Copyright

Your copyright must be registered with the United States Copyright Office before you can seek to protect your work. Once your copyright is registered, you have several options to enforce copyright protection. First, you can seek an injunction to prohibit someone from infringing your copyright. The injunction should stop any actions that involve your protected work.

Second, you may be able to obtain a court order to impound items, such as copies, that infringe your copyright. Any copies will be seized and held. A court may even order these copies to be destroyed.

Third, you can seek damages from someone who violated your copyright. You may be able to seek actual damages or statutory damages for the violation. If you can prove that the person who violated your copyright did so intentionally, the amount of statutory damages may be increased.

Violations of copyright may even trigger criminal penalties if the violation occurred for commercial profit.

If you believe your copyright was violated, seek advice from an attorney well versed in copyright law to investigate the matter.

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