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Different Types of Idea Protection

Copyrights: Brief Introduction

By Stephen Paul Gnass

The U.S. Copyright Office states that "Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (title 17, U.S. Code) to the authors of 'original works of authorship' including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic and certain other intellectual works. This protection is available to both published and unpublished works."

A copyright is an extremely powerful and very inexpensive (just $20.00) protection which protects your specific form of expression. A copyright protects you against anyone copying your intellectual materials. For example, it protects you if you've written a book, article, lyrics, poem, artwork, photographs, literature.

Yet it is much broader in scope than most people think. It also covers the following broad categories:

  • literary works
  • musical works and accompanying words
  • dramatic works including accompanying music
  • pantomimes and choreographic works
  • pictorial, graphic and sculptural works
  • motion pictures and other audio visual works
  • sound recordings
  • architectural works

Included within these categories are cartoons and comic strips, movies, video recordings, musical compositions and lyrics, sound recordings, multimedia works, computer programs, daily newspapers, automated databases, and online works.

For example, while it does not stop anyone else from writing a book on the same "subject" as yours, it does prevent direct copying or plagiarizing of paragraphs, chapters and materials from your own book as well as the main format.

When the work is ongoing, and there will be new sections added or updated material over time, there is also a special procedure on how to register this type of evolving work.

Generally, the copyright protection apply to any works "whether or not" the materials are officially copyrighted. However, registering the copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office makes it much easier to prove the copyright in court.

Additionally, since March 1, 1989 when the United States adhered to the Berne Convention, a copyright notice is also not required by law anymore. But having the copyright notice on any works helps to discourage infringement and can eliminate an "innocent infringement" defense where a person claims that he/she did not realize that the work was copyrighted.

This notice is a very simple process that you can do yourself. As soon as you begin distributing your work (even before you send in the copyright application), you can begin writing the following notification and information on all pages of your work.

According to the U.S. Copyright Office, "The notice for visually perceptible copies should contain all the following three elements:

1. The symbol © (the letter C in a circle), or the word "Copyright," or the abbreviation "Copr."; and

2. The year of first publication of the work. In the case of compilations or derivative works incorporating previously published material, the year date of first publication of the compilation or derivative work is sufficient. The year date may be omitted where a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work, with accompanying textual matter, if any, is reproduced in or on greeting cards, postcards, stationery, jewelry, dolls, toys, or any useful article; and

3. The name of the owner of copyright in the work, or an abbreviation by which the name can be recognized, or a generally known alternative designation of the owner.

Example: © 1999. John Doe. All Rights Reserved.

Note: The symbol for "phonorecords that embody a sound recording" should contain the letter P in a circle.

Once you have the necessary forms from the copyright office and fill out and return them, you'll receive your copyright usually within about two months.

An excellent book about copyrights is Business Guide to Copyright Law: What You Don't Know Can Co$t You! by Woody Young, inventor of the Kit Kat Klock. Check it out at your local library, or purchase it from at NCIO's Online Bookstore

For specific details and information about copyrights, check the following web sites:


Works made for hire under the 1976 Copyright Act
Many times, creative people utilize the skills of other people to help them with their projects. For example, someone may hire a graphic artist to design logos, or brochures, or artwork, etc. Also writers may be hired to help write a book, or article, or other literature.

In these cases where an independent contractor is hired for a project, there must be a written agreement between the parties specifying that the work is a "work made for hire", otherwise the copyright would automatically be owned by the person that was hired, and not the original creator.

In cases of works for hire where the work is created within the scope of a person's employment, the employer and not the employee would be considered the author. An example would be a musical arrangement written for XYZ Music Company by a salaried manager on its staff. The company XYZ Music Company would be considered the author.

So the main thing to determine here, is who is the actual and original creator of the concept that is being worked on. If you are working on a project for another company or individual (even a friend), and it is their concept that you are "contributing" to, then it is realistic for them to have you sign off on any rights to the work developed. Likewise, if you are having other people or companies work on your own concepts and ideas, then you are justified in having them sign off on any rights to your project.

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