Copyright 101 - What Creatives Need to Know About Copyrights

Copyrights protect original works of authorship. This could include books, blogs, songs, photographs, online courses, and more. To the surprise of many, they’re relatively easy to file and inexpensive.

What is a Copyright

A copyright is a form of intellectual property that protects original works of authorship including novels, songs, software, artwork, and photographs.

What a Copyright is Not

Copyrights are distinguished from trademarks and patents. A patent protects an invention while a trademark protects a word or logo. Let’s use Apple as an example. Apple would trademark its business name and logo. Apple could copyright images it creates to market its products. Lastly, Apple would patent any new innovations it makes for its products.

Why Register a Copyright

Writing a book, creating a work of art, and shooting a fantastic photo all takes a great deal of talent and experience. Some professionals like doctors, lawyers, and accountants can’t easily be disadvantaged by copycats. Creatives don’t have it so easy. Blogs can be copied. Photographs can be copied online with a screenshot (although it won’t be high res) as can prints of art. When your skill goes toward creating an image or a writing, it’s easy for others to take credit by simply copying the work and claiming it as their own. That’s why we have copyrights to protect these individuals and industries.

A registered copyright serves as evidence to bolster your claim of ownership over a work of authorship. Also, a registered copyright may provide statutory damages to the creator, as well as the right to attorney’s fees after successful litigation.

What is the Cost of Obtaining a Copyright

There are two costs. The first is the registration fee, and the second is the attorney cost. The filing cost is either $35 or $55 per copyright depending on the type of claim. My rate for filing a copyright is $250. 

Registering Multiple Works at Once

You may be able to group works into one application to save time and cost. The rules for doing so depend on whether the works are published. Works are considered published if are being offered for sale, transfer of ownership, or by rental.

A group of published works may be registered together if all of the following requirements have been met: 
•    All the works in the group must be photographs;
•    All the photographs must be published in the same calendar year;
•    The group must include no more than 750 photographs;
•    All the photographs must be created by the same author;
•    The copyright claimant for each photograph must be the same person or organization.

A group of unpublished works may be registered together if all of the following conditions are met:
•    Each work of the collection are assembled in an orderly form;
•    The combined works bear a single title identifying the collection as a whole;
•    The claimant for each work is the same;
•    All works are by the same creator.

Now, you may be wondering what an unpublished course even is. Great question! Material is generally considered unpublished if it was not intended for public distribution or available for public consumption just yet. But if only a few copies have been created so far and the distribution has been limited - that also seals the deal! For example, two or more unpublished online courses that are going to be offered on the same website may be registered together as multiple work. This not only saves you time, but money as well! There are a few more factors to be met, such as: all of the unpublished material must share at least one author and the material must be hosted in one collection or by one organization.

How Long Does It Take to Register a Copyright

The average time for electronic applications is around eight months while the average time for a paper application is thirteen months.

What to do If Someone is Breaching Your Copyright

The first step is typically to send a cease and desist letter. Essentially, this is just a formal letter saying, “hey stop doing that.” Have an attorney draft the letter on law firm letterhead. The letter should show proof of your ownership of the copyright and explain that you have the legal right to sue if the other party does not stop its breach. If that doesn’t do the trick, it may be time to file a lawsuit.


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