The Great Copyright Debate: Part I

The Great Copyright Debate

**I am going to preface this post by saying that I am not, in any way, an expert on copyright laws. This is simply information I have gathered from my own research and lawyers I have spoken with regarding copyright information. If you have additional information, or feel something here is misrepresented, please feel free to leave a comment or contact me directly, and I’ll be happy to add/adjust the post as needed.

As creatives, copyright is a big, albeit mundane, part of our business and/or creative process. We constantly develop new ideas and do our best to preserve and represent those ideas without worry of being copied.

With continuous buzz regarding copyright issues stirring around the creative world, I took it upon myself to gain insight and knowledge in copyright laws and regulations that I was not previously privy to. Below are the facts of what I found, sprinkled with some opinions and discussion along the way.

  • The Copyright Basics as stated by the United States Copyright Office give an in-depth overview of the main definitions of copyright – a great starting point if you’re just learning the rules and definitions applied to copyright. In summary, copyright provides protection “…to 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 This protection is available to both published and unpublished works.”
  • What I found most interesting in reading the Copyright Basics, was this: “Copyright is secured automatically when the work is created, and a work is ‘created’ when it is fixed in a copy or phonorecord for the first time.” What this means is that a creator has sole ownership of a work without even registering for copyright.
  • While copyright infringement is (sadly) prevalent, it’s actually not as easy as I’d hoped it would be to fight it. In order to file an infringement suit, your work must be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. And as small business owners, or simply individuals who are creating for fun, it’s simply not possible to copyright every single work we create.

While there is plenty to learn about copyright, these are the main points I walked away with. If you’re interested in learning more about copyright registration, you can review the Copyright Basics in more detail.

If you’re interested in registering any of your work, simply fill out this form, submit your fee ($35 for online registration and $65 for registration by mail), and upload your work here. That’s it!

But the bigger question remains. Is this a strong form of protection for artists?

The short answer (in my opinion): No, probably not. There is no examiner involved in copyright registration. Simply put, a work can be registered that was an infringement from someone else. So who is protected in that case? The original artist who did not register their work or the copycat who did register their work? Sadly, I don’t think I want to know the answer to that one.

And is a copyright registration enough evidence to use against an offender in court if there is no examiner involved? What is the advantage of copyright registration if, technically, the work secures copyright the second it is created as intellectual property (aside from being used as evidence in court)?

I don’t have the answer to these questions, but I do believe the answers strongly depend on the type of business you are in and how your designs are used and produced.

In the next post, I’ll discuss the moral and ethical dilemmas associated with copyright registration.

Until then, I’m interested in getting the discussion started with regard to copyright registration. As creative individuals, it’s important for us to be aware of these legalities, even if we do not necessarily utilize them on a daily basis.

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