Thursday, February 16, 2012

An Overview of Copyrights - Part 18 in our IP and Patents Series

This is the eighteenth in a planned 20-part series of articles on intellectual property.

In this posting, we will take a look at copyrights – what they are and what their value might be.

A copyright protects “original works of authorship” (see the link below to the US Copyright Office, which explains copyright law in detail). This is different from a patent (which protects an inventor from someone who might steal an invention) and a trademark (which protects the use of a word, phrase, symbol or design that is used to distinguish one source from another). Copyrights protect things like original books, stories, songs and software.

In terms of protection, the US Copyright Office says that once an original work is created and put into a tangible form that is decipherable, it is automatically protected. However, like trademarks, it probably makes a lot of sense – from a legal standpoint – to copyright one’s works.

One of the most famous cases of copyright infringement involved Napster – the website that offered music sharing online without the permission of the copyright owners. Napster was sued, lost and was purchased in bankruptcy proceedings.

Another well-known example is George Harrison’s song My Sweet Lord, which was found to be an unintentional and “subconscious” use of the tune from the copyrighted song He’s So Fine by the Chiffons from several years earlier. Although no one believed Harrison plagiarized the song intentionally, he still had a judgment entered against him for over a half million dollars, which was paid and the issue resolved.

Brad Templeton has a nice web page that explains some myths about the use of copyrighted works. If you want to learn more, it’s definitely worth a visit, as is the US Copyright Office site:

Templeton’s site:
US Copyright Office:

In the next post, we will discuss the (very straightforward) process of obtaining a copyright.

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