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Protecting Your Idea

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Copyright gives an owner the sole right to copy his or her work or permit someone else to do so. You can register your copyright with the United States Patent and Trademark Office( ).

How does it work?

You obtain copyright automatically when you create an original work; the author owns the copyright for his or her work unless he or she was hired to create the work, in which case the employer is the owner.

What items are subject to copyright?

The kinds of works covered include: books and maps; lyrics and musical scores; sculptures and paintings; photographs, films and tapes; computer programs and databases; slogans, names and mere titles are not protected by copyright.

What protection does copyright offer?

  • The owner has the sole right to control any publication, production, reproduction and performance of a work or its translation.
  • Royalty payments may be arranged through performing rights societies, collectives, publishing houses or by the owners directly through contracts.

How long does copyright last?

Generally, copyright exists for the life of the author and 70 years following his or her death. However, there are important exceptions:

  • unknown author;
  • crown copyright;
  • mechanical contrivances (i.e. records, tapes, etc);
  • photographs;
  • posthumous works (after author's death);
  • works of joint authorship

How do owners register copyrights?

File an application with the Copyright Office (NOTE: It is not necessary to send copies of your work with the application form). The registration process normally takes six to eight weeks. Upon registration, a certificate is issued proving that the person registered is the copyright owner. This certificate can be used in court to establish ownership.

How much does it cost?

Various fees apply to registration, copies and certified copies of certificates and other documents. A fee schedule can be obtained from the Copyright Office.

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