How to register a copyright: Part I - What can I register?
California game lawyer Zachary Strebeck presents the first in a three-part series on registering copyrights. This part examines what can and cannot be copyrighted, and who holds the copyright on a creation.
I’ve outlined a few things about copyright in previous posts, including what it is, some myths about copyright (Part I and Part II) and the reasons for registering a copyright. I thought it would be helpful to go through the process of registering one.
It’s not too difficult or expensive, and it can result in numerous benefits. This is the first in a three-part series. Each week I will look at a different aspect, with the third week being dedicated to a screenshot tour of the actual registration process.
If you learn one rule about copyright, this should be it:
A performance of music on the street is not protected, but the sheet music or a recording of the performance is protected.
A movie script or dvd is protected, but the ideas behind the movie are not protected
In addition to this fixation requirement, something must be an original work of authorship in order to be eligible for copyright protection. This means that there must be some minimal creativity in the work. A collection of facts is not protectable, but if those facts are arranged in some creative way, they can be. This requirement isn’t very difficult to overcome, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t important.
What can’t be copyrighted?
The copyright statute outlines specific limitations to the scope of protection.
“In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.”
Also, works prepared by a federal employee in the scope of their employment are not copyrightable.
For more info on what can and cannot be copyrighted, check out this FAQ by the Copyright Office. It even answers the question of whether or not an Elvis sighting can be copyrighted. Seriously.
Who holds the copyright?
Generally, the person who created the copyrightable work is the one that holds the rights. However, in an employer/employee situation, the employer is the one who gets the rights. For independent contractors, however, the contractor will hold the rights to whatever is created. The way around this is to get a “work made for hire” agreement, that assigns those rights to the person paying the independent contractor. This allows them to exploit the copyright as they see fit, rather than being beholden to the contractor for the duration of the copyright (which can be quite long).
If you are in need of such an agreement, some advice on whether or not your creation is copyrightable or registering your creation, why not contact a copyright lawyer for a free consultation?