Experienced Copyright Attorneys
At Coats & Bennett, PLLC, 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 of, register, license, protect and defend their copyrights. Our team members have appeared in numerous legal and industry forums to provide guidance on copyright management issues. One 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, we can help.
How Copyrights Work
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. An author who has used at least a minimal amount of his or her own creativity to create any such work owns the copyright in that work. Whether you are an architect, writer, artist, performer, software developer, website 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.
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.
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 70 years. Works made for hire and anonymous or pseudonymous authors are copyrighted for 95 years from first publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter.
Protecting Your Vision
As the phrase “copyright” implies, the author has a right to prevent others from using or copying the work. However, it is not a monopoly right. For example, someone can author an identical expression without prior knowledge of your work. It is also important to keep in mind that copyrights protect the expression and not the underlying idea. We assist clients in evaluating this idea/expression dichotomy in areas relevant to their efforts.
Copyright law also allows unauthorized copying under “fair use” circumstances. These include criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship and research. The federal Copyright Act also lists four factors in determining if a particular use is fair:
- The purpose and character of the use, including whether the use is for commercial vs. nonprofit educational purposes
- The nature of the copyrighted work
- Amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the whole copyrighted work
- The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work
The distinction between “fair use” and infringement is not easily defined. We assist clients in evaluating whether certain uses may be characterized under this exception and protect their interests in litigation when necessary. Affixing a notice (ex: © Coats & Bennett, PLLC, 2012) can prevent an infringer from claiming innocent infringement.
It is also a very good idea to register your copyrights with the United States Copyright Office, which can provide for substantial damages if someone infringes on your work. A copyright registration also provides evidence of ownership and constitutes prima facie evidence regarding ownership in court. 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. We routinely file and prosecute copyright applications on behalf of our clients.
Contact Coats & Bennett, PLLC, To Get Started
If you’re ready to learn more about copyrights and protecting your vision and ideas, we invite you to schedule a consultation today. You can call our office in Cary, North Carolina, at or contact us online. We serve clients across the country.