Do you want to protect your photography, writing, artwork, musical compositions, and other creative pieces from being copied or used without your permission? Of course you do! No one wants their originality and hard work stolen and credited to another person.
Thanks to copyright law, you can protect your creative works from copycats, and enforce your rights in case they’re violated. But copyright law in the United States can be mind-boggling. “Do I need a copyright for each piece of individual content? What can I copyright? Do I have to register my copyrights?” We answer all these questions and more below!
A copyright is, according to the U.S. Copyright Office, a “type of intellectual property that protects original works of authorship as soon as an author fixes the work in a tangible form of expression.”
More simply put, a copyright protects a creator’s original works as soon as they’re completed in a tangible way. For example, you can’t copyright an idea for a song floating around in your head, or the composition of a photograph you’re planning to take next week.
Once you create an original work and “fix it,” or bring it to life, you are the author and owner. (Unless you’re recording a song for a company or taking a photo for a client, in which case, the person or organization that hires you can also be the copyright owner.)
You can copyright these things once they’re brought to life. Works like the following can be copyrighted:
Remember, these have to be original works to be eligible for copyright. You can’t jump on a TikTok dance challenge and then try to copyright your TikTok, because you didn’t come up with the original idea for it.
The U.S. Copyright Office (and the Supreme Court) state works are original when they’re “independently created by a human author and have a minimal degree of creativity.” You can’t copy someone else, and to be creative under their definition, a work must have a “spark” and “modicum” of creativity.
There are exceptions to what can be protected under copyright law. Remember that copyright protects expression — not ideas, systems, processes, and things like that.
The following things are not considered creative and can’t be copyrighted:
We dive deeper into what copyright protects, what it doesn’t, copyright infringement, and other important info in this blog post.
Let’s recap real quick. We know that:
Even though a copyright is created automatically when you create your original work, you need to register that work to prevent anyone else from copying, using or distributing it without your permission.
When you register your copyright through the U.S. Copyright Office, you can sue other people for copyright infringement. It’s not mandatory, but think of it as enhancing the protection over your works.
Now for the big question.Do you need separate copyrights for each piece of unique content?
It depends. In most cases, the U.S. Copyright Office requires each work to be registered on a separate application. That means for each work, you’d likely have to prepare an individual application and pay a separate filing fee to register it.
But a rule called “Circular 34” basically states that you can register certain types of multiple works on one application.
Works that can be filed as a group on one application include:
You can’t register different types of works under one application. For example, you could register four illustrations on one application or five songs on another, but you can’t use one application to register one poem, two songs, and three illustrations.
What did we learn from this blog post? That generally, you’ll need to file a separate application and pay a separate fee for each work that you create. But there are quite a few exceptions to this rule that allow you to file a copyright for multiple works under one application.
Understanding and following the Copyright Office’s rules can be a bit complicated. There are exceptions and lots of little details that can trip you up, depending on what work you’re trying to copyright. Always make sure to check the U.S. Copyright Office’s rules before filing your copyright application.
Oh, and before you create an original work for a client who hired you, make sure you cover copyrights, ownership, and usage of that work in your contract! We have contracts for all sorts of professions in our shop, so find the perfect one for your biz today.
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