Please Protect Your Intellectual Property – Part III: Copyrights


“Is that copyrighted?”

The Library of Congress says that copyrights are:

“a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (title 17, U. S. Code) to the authors of “original works of authorship,” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works.

This protection is available to both published and unpublished works. Section 106 of the 1976 Copyright Act generally gives the owner of copyright the exclusive right to do and to authorize others to do the following:

  • reproduce the work in copies or phonorecords
  • prepare derivative works based upon the work
  • distribute copies or phonorecords of the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending
  • perform the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  • display the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work
  • perform the work publicly (in the case of sound recordings) by means of a digital audio transmission (Reference two) gives eight categories of copyrightable material:

  1. literary works
  2. musical works
  3. dramatic works
  4. pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
  5. sound recordings
  6. pantomimes and choreographic works
  7. audiovisual works
  8. architectural works

Examples of copyrighted material are a published book, the sheet music for a composition, or a piece of art. Software can be copyrighted. So can the content and layout of a website.

The copyright goes into effect once “the work is fixed in a ‘tangible form of expression’ for the first time.” Copyright duration is complex and depends on a number of factors including whether the copyright is owned by the author or the company and when it was originally filed. If the work was created after January 1, 1978, the copyright protection lasts for the author’s life and an additional 70 years after the author’s death. If the copyright belongs to the employer and was part of a “work for hire” agreement, the duration is 95 years from the first publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter.

Another important point made by is that “works that have not been fixed as a copy aren’t eligible” for copyright protection. As an example, a pantomime artist in a park cannot protect their mime routine by a copyright unless it is filmed or put into a “fixed” format.

In the digital era, copyright infringement has become easier than ever. The use of images, songs or video from internet sources can easily be copyright infringement. The question becomes “when can I use someone else’s copyright?” Use of someone else’s copyright may require an assessment of the Fair Use factors, the first sale doctrine, and other legal considerations. Businesses need to identify the information that is valuable to them and then seek the advice and counsel of qualified professionals to implement a plan to protect that valuable information.

Trademarks and trade secrets will be explored in the fourth and fifth parts in this series of blog postings.


STEVE CZERNIAK – Mr. Czerniak retired after a successful career that culminated in fifteen years of experience as an internal consultant and “change agent.” He is currently an Expert-in-Residence at the Macomb-Oakland University Incubator and a volunteer with the Troy Historic Village and Historical Society.

JENNIFER DUKARSKI for BUTZEL LONG – Founded in 1854, Butzel Long is one of the oldest firms in the Midwest United States and has offices in Michigan, New York, Washington, D.C., and alliance offices in Mexico and China. Since our inception, we have played a prominent role in the development and growth of many industries in Michigan. Our firm has over 3,000 geographically diverse clients that are active in national and international markets. These clients come from many sectors, including advertising, automotive, banking and financial services, construction, energy, healthy care, insurance, manufacturing, media, pharmaceuticals, professional services, publishing, real estate, retail and wholesale distribution, technology, transportation, and utilities.

REFERENCES:  1); 2),d.amc

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