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Copyright - What Is It and Why Is It Valuable?

A copyright is a set of rights to an original work of authorship or other creations that are literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, audiovisual, and architectural in nature. Copyright can even exist in expression of an idea such as a picture of a sandcastle you made on the beach or a child’s crayon drawing. Copyrights don’t cover ideas, concepts, facts, or technique.

Copyrights exist in many everyday items like online blogs, printed books, YouTube videos, movies, songs, sculptures, engineering drawings, software, and even architecture. 

Anyone who has written a creative essay, taken a photo, drawn a sketch, or filmed their friends on a Smartphone has probably created an original work that can be copyrighted. Professionals often create original works many times a day. Original works are so frequently created that registering copyrights for everything created, while this is possible, is impractical.  Instead, taking steps to protect a copyright is usually reserved for valuable works. 

“Value” is an interesting concept and the subject of much philosophical debate. For some value is means money. For others, the value in the identity is the trueness of expression or its ability to express something important.  Regardless of how “value” is defined, there is usually a strong correlation between value and one or more features of the work such as its expressive nature, quality, rarity, and/or effort that went into creating the work. In the end analysis, the most important question to ask an author/owner is in which way(s) the work is valuable to them. 

What’s the Real Value in Copyright Registration?

The purpose of copyrighting is to protect your creative “masterpiece” from being copied by someone who, seeing the potential market value in your work, may seize an opportunity to cash in on it. The word “copying” is shorthand for a set of five rights. Specifically, the law gives a copyright owner the right to control the reproduction, distribution, production, performance, and public display of his or her work. 17 U.S.C § 106. 

One of the most important aspects of a copyright registration is it helps you establish and the world recognize a record of ownership. Once granted, the rights set forth in 17 U.S.C § 106 are presumptively yours and a court must assume them unless proven otherwise. 

Copyright Registration—Why Bother?

Registering a copyright is not necessary to have copyright protection. In fact, your work has copyright protection under U.S. law the moment you create it and fixes in a tangible form. A tangible form need not be something that you touch; rather tangible in this case applies to something “perceptible,” either directly or by using a machine or other device. A good way to think about this concept is if it can be seen, heard, or touched, it is probably copyrightable. Over the past decade there has been an increasing push for copyright protection for items that can be tasted or smelled (those items can be the subject of a trademark), but the U.S. Congress and courts have not yet acknowledged them. 

While registering a copyright does not guarantee others will not try to benefit from copying your work, it does provide an important means for going after copyright infringers. In fact, it is a requirement to obtain a copyright registration – or at least file an application for one - before suing someone. In addition, there are significant benefits to registering your work. Having a public record of your copyright, along with a certificate of registration, enables you to act quickly when copied; as well proving an option to receive statutory damages in successful copyright litigation. In short, it’s much easier to have the law on your side if someone steals your work.

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