How to preserve your copyright: Featured Article
When you create something, whether it is a piece of art, literary master piece, etc. you want to make sure that you protect your right to claim ownership of your creation. So you go through all of the hassle of filling out the paperwork to have your work copyright protected. You pay a fee; you may even pay for an expert to look over your registration paperwork to ensure that everything has been done properly. After all of this investment of time, money and effort, you want to make sure that you are able to not only hold a copyright, but preserve the right that having an official copyright carries with it. There is a lot more to protecting your work than just holding your copyright papers. You want to make sure that people have no way of mistaking that the work they are admiring is not theirs, it is yours. So what sorts of things can you do to take your copyright claim to the next level? In the paragraphs that follow you will read of more suggestions for the kinds of things that you can do to preserve the copyright that you have worked so hard to obtain.
One of the most common, practical, affordable and easy things that you can do to make progress towards preserving your copyright is to use a notice. In short, a copyright notice is a mark or statement that quite clearly makes it known that the material that the notice is attached to is protected by copyright law and that any wishing to use that material must fist obtain permission from the copyright owner. It used to be a requirement that copyright holders used copyright notices on their works, but this law has such been changed to only a suggestion that is viewed as beneficial to the copyright holder. There is however still an enforced law on copyright notices that are on older materials.
According to the United States Copyright Office, "Copyright notice provisions were originally enacted in the 1976 Copyright Act (title 17, U.S. Code), which took effect January 1, 1978, and the effect of the 1988 Berne Convention Implementation Act, which amended the copyright law to make the use of a copyright notice optional on copies of works published on and after March 1, 1989. Works published before January 1, 1978, are governed by the previous copyright law. Under that law, if a work was published under the copyright owner's authority without a proper notice of copyright, all copyright protection for that work was permanently lost in the United States."
How to preserve your copyright by including a copyright notice
Using a copyright notice to preserve your copyright is the simplest way to avoid one of the most common problems that copyright holders face when it comes to protecting their work; that is defense against defendants that are taken to court for copyright infringement who claim that they did not know that the work they are being prosecuted for violating the copyright on was in fact a copyright protected material. When there is a clearly displayed copyright notice on the work, defendants have a significantly weakened defense when it comes to being guilty because of naivety. Furthermore, it is wise to have a copyright notice even if you are not set of having a strong defense in court because the inclusion of a copyright notice makes it much easier for someone who wants to obtain your information to ask for permission to use your material can do so more easily. In a way, a copyright notice deters those who may be guilty of infringement and further encourages that you as the copyright holder obtain the notice that you deserve as the originator of the work.
There are different ways to preserve your copyright by including a copyright notice. Obviously the best copyright notices are also usually the most easily noticeable and clearly labeled. This is easiest to do on what are called "visually perceptible copies" of copyrighted work simply because they are the most tangible and easily reproduced material types. The copyright notice on these types of materials should contain three things: the symbol c (the letter C in a circle), or the word "Copyright," or the abbreviation "Copr.", the year of first publication of the work, and the name of the individual who holds the copyright for that work.
Copyright notices on things such as musical recordings, typically take on the identity of the medium that they are intended to protect. So a musical recording may have an audio attachment of the copyright notice. When the music is written on paper, the notice is more likely to take on the appearance that was described above for visually perceptible copies. Naturally the position of the notice is important as ease of seeing or noticing this notice is the whole point to its inclusion on the copyrighted work. The U.S. Copyright Office has issued regulations concerning the position of the copyright notice and the various methods of affixation (37 CFR 201.20). To read the complete regulations, see "Methods of Affixation and Positions of the Copyright Notice on Various Types of Works" at www.copyright.gov/title37.
Knowing the parameters of your copyright protection
You can only preserve what is legally yours to preserve and so there are some basic rules about who needs to get the permission of a copyright holder and who is not required to obtain the permission of the copyright holder. Even the U.S. Government is clear on the fact that there are many copyright holders who prosecute who they claim to be copyright infringers but actually have little or nothing to go on. Frivolous suits are not only a waste of time and effort but they can end up costing you more money than the trouble is worth. Below you will find some examples of situations where someone is within their legal rights to reproduce something that you have a copyright to:
If at any time you have at any time declared that the materials that you have copyrighted are to be or could be used as public domain and you have made a statement that affirms this, you have no legal rights to preserve your copyright. In other words, you still may be recognized as the originator of the work, but anyone who wishes can make whatever changes they wish and then put their own name to the work. It would be fruitless to take someone to court for violation of a copyright because by your declaration of public domain, you relinquish your right to preserve the copyright.
"Fair use" is a legal term that is often used by the court system to recognize the rights of both the citizen and the copyright owner in cases where the issue of copyright infringement or violation falls into a gray area. The term "fair use" should not be confused with the idea that if you think that it if fair to use the work of another than you are justified. Instead fair use refers to the use of copyrighted materials where there is no or little blatant copying of work that is copied, quoted or paraphrased for purposes of comment, criticism, illustration or scholarship. For example, let's examine the purpose of scholarship that was just mentioned. It is within fair use guidelines for a teacher who is instructing not-for-profit to obtain or make copies of copyrighted work to distribute to students for the purpose of education. Regardless of how justified you are when operating under fair use, it is always appropriate to give due credit where it is deserved by recognizing the copyright holder whenever you use his or her materials in your own work.
Part of preserving your copyright is knowing what to do if someone asks you for your permission when they want to use your work. Generally there is a preformatted form that one can use to request permission from you or any other third party to request the use of copyrighted material. The individual requesting permission from the copyright holder should be very specific in not only what materials they wish to have permission to use, but also what portions of those materials they are requesting. If someone wanted to quote several pages of a novel, for example, it would be appropriate to request that permission to quote from not only a specific book, but the specific pages and even paragraphs of that book. The declaration of permission might also include terms for payment. Either the requester of permission can indicate how much they are willing to compensate the copyright holder for permission to use material or the copyright holder can make permission for use contingent on payment of a pre-determined fee per copy made, etc. Ultimately both you as the copyright holder and the individual requesting permission to distribute or reproduce your work, must come to a mutual agreement. Making sure that these agreements are written and kept on record is always wise.
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