Most businesses do not realize that they use copyrighted work every day. Whether the business or someone else owns the copyright, these rights are common in the business place. If your employee designs marketing materials then your company owns the copyright to those materials. If those marketing materials contain a photograph from the internet, someone else owns the copyright to that photograph and you should obtain permission to use it. It is important that businesses understand which works have copyright protection, both to protect their own intellectual property rights and to prevent infringement on others’ rights.
What is a copyright?
In the past, an author did not obtain a copyright until she registered the work with the United States Copyright Office and put the © notice on the work. This is no longer a requirement. Now, a work receives copyright protection at its creation if it is an original work of authorship that is fixed and can be reproduced. Ideas and facts are not protected, only their expression. The Copyright Act grants copyrights to board categories of works, including business forms, marketing materials, articles and webinars.
This means that as I am writing and creating this article, I have a copyright in this article. It is original, fixed in electronic form and can be reproduced. Although anyone can write about the ideas or facts of copyright he or she cannot use my exact words without my permission.
In light of this, a business should evaluate what copyrights are owned and determine if it needs to enforce these rights. You may discover that you own a copyrighted work with significant commercial value.
What is public domain?
A business must also protect itself from potential infringement claims from using another person’s copyrighted work. A common misconception is that if a work is posted on the Internet it is not protected by copyright and anyone is free to use it. This is incorrect. Only those works that are in the public domain may be used freely without risk of infringement.
A copyright is only granted for a limited period of time. Once the term expires, the work goes into the public domain. The difficult part is determining when a work has entered the public domain because of the many changes in copyright law since the early 1900’s. As a general rule, all works created prior to 1923 are in the public domain. For works created after 1977, whether or not they were published, the copyright is for the life of the author, plus 70 years. If the work was made for hire, the term is 95 years from the date of publication or 120 years from date of creation, whichever ends first. For works created between 1923 and 1977, it depends on the copyright law at the time it was either created or published and whether the author complied with the requirements at the time. When it is uncertain whether the work has entered the public domain, you should either try to obtain permission to use it or consult with a copyright attorney. It is important that businesses prevent unauthorized use of copyrighted works because infringement claims can lead to significant damages.
Contact the attorneys at McMillan Metro at (301) 251-1180 for more information.