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Our attorneys know copyright. We have decades of experience helping people and businesses protect their creative expressions across all areas of industry, art, and education. We help our clients manage, secure ownership, register, license, protect and defend their copyrights. Newer technologies, such as Internet web pages and software are protected by copyright laws just as traditional works, such as art, photography, and architecture.

Whether you are an architect, software developer, web site designer, or content provider, you need an attorney who understands how copyright laws crafted for more traditional works can also be applied in a creative way to more cutting edge technologies. Our members have appeared in numerous legal and industry forums to provide guidance on copyright management issues. One member has even written the book on architectural works copyright. Our litigators were on the editorial board that wrote the ABA’s model jury instructions for copyright cases. Regardless of the form of your creative expressions, Coats + Bennett can help.

For more information on copyrights, please see the link below.

Copyright Overview

Copyrights protect creative expressions and provide authors the exclusive right to reproduce, prepare derivative works, distribute copies, perform in public, and display in public his or her work. Copyright exists in literary, musical, dramatic, choreographic, pictorial, graphic, sculptural, motion picture, audio visual, sound recording, and architectural works. An author that has used at least a minimal amount of his or her own creativity to create any such work owns the copyright in that work.

An author automatically owns his or her creative expressions. An employer is the “author” for purposes of creative content created by employees in the ordinary course of their employment. “Purchasing” creative content does not typically give the purchaser ownership of the copyright in the content. For example, a company or person that hires an independent contractor to author a design, write a brochure, or draw a house plan most likely does not own the copyright in the resulting works – despite having paid for it. We routinely assist our clients with reviewing and securing ownership in their creative content.

As the phrase “copyright” implies, the author has a right to prevent others from using or copying the work. It is not a monopoly right in the particular expression. If another person authors an identical expression without prior exposure or reference to the first author’s work, there is no copyright infringement. Of course, the more complex the expression, the less likely someone will innocently make an identical version on their own. It is also important to keep in mind that copyrights protect the expression and not the underlying idea. It is the manner in which an idea is expressed that can be protected from copying. We assist clients in evaluating this idea/expression dichotomy in areas relevant to their efforts.

Copyright law allows unauthorized copying under circumstances known as “fair use.” The Copyright Act contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered “fair,” such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Section 107 also sets out four factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The distinction between “fair use” and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission. We assist clients in evaluating whether certain uses may be characterized under this exception.

Applying notice of your copyright to or near your works is no longer required to preserve and protect the copyright. Affixing a notice does, however, provide constructive notice of your rights, informs viewers of your property right claim, and prevents an infringer from claiming innocent infringement. The appropriate copyright notice consists of the copyright symbol or word followed by the name of the author and the year in which the works was originally completed. A standard format is as follows: © Coats and Bennett, PLLC 2012.

It is a very good idea to register your copyrights with the United States Copyright Office. If a work is registered at the time it is infringed, the copyright holder is eligible for statutory damages of up to $75,000 per act of infringement or up to $150,000 per infringement in cases of willful infringement. The copyright owner can also recover his or her attorney’s fees expended in enforcing the copyright. Without a prior registration, statutory damages and attorney’s fees are not recoverable. In many cases, such recovery is greater than the damages award. A copyright registration also provides contemporaneous evidence of ownership and constitutes prima facie evidence regarding ownership and copyright validity in a court of law. Finally, a copyright owner must register the copyright prior to filing a lawsuit. If you want to protect your copyrights, it makes good sense to file the registrations as soon as the works are completed and prior to introducing them to the market. We routinely file and prosecute copyright applications on behalf of our clients.

The duration of a copyright depends on the type of author and the date of publication. Currently, works authored by an individual last for the duration of the author’s life plus seventy years. Works made for hire, such as by employees of a corporation, and anonymous or pseudonymous are copyrighted for ninety-five years from first publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter.

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