Copyright Law

Use Copyright Law to Its Best Effect with a Copyright Attorney

Generally, copyright law protects the owner of a copyright by granting an exclusive bundle of intangible rights. Upon creation of a work and fixation in a tangible medium, for a long time period, the owner, who is often the creator of the literary, artistic, musical, or other creative work, has the sole and exclusive right to reproduce, publish, distribute, create derivative works of, and sell that work as he or she sees fit. The copyright owner has the exclusive right to prevent anyone else from exploiting the work without consent. A qualified copyright lawyer can help individuals and companies ensure that they retain copyright, obtain copyright assignments from contractors and others, file and ensure the protection of copyrighted materials, which is necessary to enforce rights in the United States. It is best to file for copyright protection in the United States before an infringement occurs.

The Copyright Act of 1976 is a federal law that provides copyright protection throughout the United States. Therefore, the use or copying of any work without permission from the owner of the copyright is a violation of federal law. This infringement can lead to stiff penalties which can include monetary damages, and indeed statutory damages, which can run up to $150,000 per work infringed without the need of the copyright owner to prove actual damages. Moreover, the United States since 1989 has been a member of the Berne Convention on the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, meaning the once an author is protected under copyright law in the United States, the author is also protected throughout most of the world. It is important to note that the protections provided under copyright law are distinct from other forms of intellectual property protection such as patents, which protect inventions, and trademarks, which protects words, symbols, and certain other distinguishing features that distinguish goods and services in commerce.

The Copyright Law was amended over a decade ago to bring into line with evolving international standards in the digital age; this amendment is called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act or DMCA. A key feature of the DMCA is that it regulates the liability for digital content on the World Wide Web. In short, telecommunications companies and other webhosts and auction sites did not want to face liability for carrying or hosting billions of bytes or items of copyrighted content transmitted or posted by third parties, some of which might infringe the rights of third parties. The DMCA essentially exempts such telecoms and web hosts from liability if they respond quickly to takedown notices in accordance with the DMCA. In this way, video sites such as YouTube and auction sites such as eBay can allow the posting of content without substantial risk. Indeed, Google and YouTube recently prevailed over Viacom in a well publicized case about whether the ongoing piracy of Viacom content appearing on YouTube was adequately addressed legally by YouTube’s taking down such content instead of filtering it out in advance or being more proactive.

Another issue in copyright that requires careful legal advice is “fair use,” when and whether a company or individual can use portions of another party’s copyrighted work without permission or a license. Neff Law Firm gives frequent fair use opinions, which turn on a a variety of considerations that have been established in constantly evolving federal caselaw.

Today, copyright law protects virtually all artistic and intellectual works, including photographs, books, periodicals, poems, song lyrics, computer programs, sound recordings, and audiovisual works. The only condition the law requires is that the work is original and creative. Originality is not dependent on the work meeting any standard of aesthetic or artistic quality. In other words, copyright law is intended to protect any original fixed expression or manifestation of idea but does not extend protection to the idea itself. Typically, copyright protection is automatic once a work has been fixed in a tangible medium of expression; however registration of the copyright with the Copyright Office provides substantial statutory advantages.

An attorney may not be necessary to file a copyright application, which can be done online with the US Copyright Office. However, copyright lawyers are useful for much more than retention only when a copyright infringement has occurred (or when you are accused of infringement). Involving a copyright lawyer at the early stages can help ensure that your copyright is properly registered thereby protecting your interests. Copyright lawyers are similarly useful for a business that hopes to use another’s work in compliance with the law. Regardless of which stage of the process you’re in, development, registration, infringement, or litigation, legal counsel can help. A copyright lawyer can offer specialized legal expertise and knowledge of complex compyright laws, and by representing your best interests ensure that you are able to make sound business decisions.

Richard Neff of Neff Law Firm has unique expertise in international copyright, a very specialized field, and for much of the 1990s, acting on behalf of major technology companies, he was retained to work with legislators in various Latin American countries to amend their copyright laws in order to protect computer software. He has contributed language on behalf of the computer software and technology industries to the copyright laws of Mexico and Peru, and to the Software Law of Brazil.