What are the Basics of Copyright?

In the United States of America the authors of “original works of authorship’’ receive copyright protection. This includes protection of literature, dramatic, musical, and artistic and other intellectual works which are the intellectual property of an individual or a group of people. Copyright law provides these exclusive rights not only to protect the works but also promote creativity and learning (for more information see; title 17, U.S. Code ).


According to the English Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988, if the employee made a copyrighted work during his/her employment, the owner automatically becomes the employer. This is known as a “work for hire’’. The law also states that the author is the 1st owner of the work. But when the work is the product of a group of people, it must go under a joint authorship.


Depending on the countries and/or states’ jurisdiction, specifics of copyright vary. The list of works which may undergo protection are but not limited to the following creative, intellectual and/or artistic forms:

  • Literary works such as poems, theses, plays etc.
  • Movies
  • Musical compositions
  • Sound recordings
  • Paintings and drawings
  • Computer software, radio and television broadcasting etc.

To be more specific, we may say that the protection doesn’t refer to ideas and information, but the form or manner of their expression. In this case, a good example can be famous Mickey Mouse cartoon copyright. In this case, anybody is restricted to make copies of the cartoon based on this particular anthropomorphic animal. Nevertheless, this doesn’t prohibit the creation of mice characters if they are as different so as not to treat as a copy of the original cartoon. In this case, the copyright refers not to typically Mickey but Steamboat Willie. Mickey is only protected.

Exclusive rights of the holder

There are six exclusive rights for the owner:

  • Work reproduction
  • Work distribution
  • Derivative work creation
  • Performance of the work to the public
  • Public display of the work
  • Public performance of sound recordings via digital audio transmission


If you create work on or after January 1, 1978, it is automatically protected by the law from the moment of the creation under a term lasting for the author’s life+70 more years. For a “joint work prepared by two or more authors who did not work for hire,” the term of copyright lasts for 70 years after the death of last surviving author. If the work is created for hire, anonymous and/or pseudonymous works, the term is 95 years from the date of the 1st publication or 120 years from the date of creation.

Works not registered or published before January 1, 1978, automatically undergo federal copyright protection with the same term. These works are guaranteed at last 25 years of authorized protection. Works copyrighted between January 1, 1964, and December 31, 1977, undergo renewed copyright protection. The term goes between 28-year of the original term and a 67-year of renewal term (For more info see Circular 15, Renewal of Copyright).

Who may submit an application?

The following people may file an application form:

  • The author who either created the work or the employer who hired someone to create that work.
  • The claimant of copyright who is either the author of the work or the organization who had all ownership rights of the copyright.
  • The Authorized agent of an author is the one is may act on behalf of the author, other copyright claimant or the owner of the exclusive rights.

Where will the copyright protect your work? 

Unfortunately, there is no such “international copyright” to protect your work everywhere. Basically, the laws have “local” nature and the protection works within the territory where the work received protection. Nevertheless, there are two main international agreements; the Berne Convention on the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works and/or the Universal Copyright Convention. If you become the member of these conventions, you as a foreign author may have a worldwide protection  (this is a general info, search for more one).


The indicator of copyright is the letter C inside a circle- ©. The USA adopted the law referring the sign in 1989. Very often you can also come across with P inside a circle- ℗ which is a copyright sign of musical or other audio recordings. While protecting your work, be sure that you clearly mentioned the sign in the corresponding place to avoid any infringement.








Armen Margarian

Armen Margarian is an attorney with The Margarian Law Firm.

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