Property Rights


What is a copyright? A copyright is the legal protection of the way someone expresses his or her idea. This kind of protection is awarded mostly to authors, artists, composers and software programmers. A copyright only protects the particular arrangement of words or the way something looks. It does not protect the subject matter or information communicated. For example, only an exact copy of the word order constitutes copyright infringement of a book or part of a book.

What types of works can be covered by a copyright? Books, plays, songs, poetry, catalogs, photographs, computer programs, advertisements, movies, labels, drawings, maps, sculptures, prints, game boards and rules, and recordings.

What types of works can't be covered by a copyright? Titles, slogans, lettering, ideas, forms, facts, mailing lists, directories and U.S. government publications.

When does a copyright begin? A copyright exists automatically upon the creation of the work. Thus, no registration is necessary.

When can I use the © symbol with my work? Works published after March 1, 1989, no longer need to display the © notice. However, this symbol reminds anyone seeing the work that copyright protection is being claimed.

When should I file my work with the U.S. Copyright Office? If someone infringes upon your work, you must first file your work with the Copyright Office before going to court to collect damages. However, if you register within three months of publication or before you are infringed upon, you may be able to collect attorney fees, costs and damages that don't have to be proved by you.

How long does copyright protection last? Copyright protection lasts for your lifetime plus 50 years and needs no renewals. Copyrights awarded before 1976 last for 28 years with one 28-year renewal.

Where do I file a copyright application? Library of Congress Copyright Office, Register of Copyrights, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, DC 20559-6000.

How can I get more information? Call (202) 707-3000 or visit

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This article was originally published in the January 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Property Rights.

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