Copyright: What Is It, and When Should I Get One?

As the owner of a small business, you may encounter intellectual property issues. You may have a name, slogan, or published work that you want to protect. Copyrights help protect your ideas and your business (check out our Trademarks article too!).


What Is A Copyright?

A copyright is a way to legally protect your intellectual property and is available for tangible, original works of authorship. This includes literary, musical, artistic, and dramatic works. If no one else holds a copyright on similar work, you should look into applying for one (keep reading for information on conducting a copyright search).


Patents, Trademarks, and Copyrights: What Are The Differences?

A patent protects an invention. It grants exclusive rights to the use, sale, and manufacturing of that product.


A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of a party’s goods. Examples include brand names, logos, and slogans. The ™ symbol indicates a trademark that has not been formally registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (either an application has not been submitted, or the application is pending). The ® symbol indicates a trademark that has been registered.


A copyright protects tangible works of authorship, whether it be a poem, a play, or a book. The © symbol indicates an original copyrighted work.


How Do I Get A Copyright?

Interestingly enough, a copyright does not need to be registered in order for your work to be protected under law. The U.S. Copyright Office states that “your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.” However, you should still formally register your copyright with the U.S. government. This will give you much greater legal protection in case of infringement and let you seek higher legal damages.


To formally register a copyright, first conduct a search to check that there are no similar works already copyrighted. You can perform this search directly on the U.S. Copyright Office website, under the “Search Records” tab. You can then search by title or keyword. Perform several searches using different keywords to ensure you capture all similar works. Read through the search results to see whether any of them are like your work.


Once you’re sure that no similar copyrights exist, complete and submit an application to the U.S. Copyright Office. Processing times vary, but the average is 7 to 9 months.


What Rights Come With A Copyright?

  • The right to reproduce the work. This is perhaps the most important right and the one most people have in mind when applying for a copyright.
  • The right to prepare derivative works based upon the work (i.e. making a movie based on a book).
  • The right to distribute copies of the work to the public. The copyright holder has the exclusive right to make the work available to the public, either through sale, rental, or lease. However, once sold, the copyright holder cedes control of what happens to that copy. This is referred to as the “first sale doctrine.”
  • The right to publicly perform the copyrighted work. The copyright holder controls when the work is performed publicly. This only applies to performance works (plays, songs, films, etc.).
  • The right to publicly display the copyrighted work. Similar to the performance right discussed above, it protects visual works (paintings, sculpture, etc.).


Wondering if you should apply for a copyright? G & G Law can help! Contact us.