With the instantaneous exchange of information provided by today’s technology, the protection of your Intellectual Property by virtue of Domestic and International Copyright laws is an essential element of the creative process.

A Copyright gives the owner of a creative work the right to keep others from using the work without the owner’s permission. It is important to understand that a Copyright applies only to a particular expression and not to the ideas or facts underlying the expression. For example, a Copyright may protect a particular movie, novel or computer game about an outer space war, but it cannot protect the underlying idea of having a war in outer space.

Any creative work, in order to be protected by a Copyright, must meet all three of the following basic criteria: (1) It must be original; (2) it must be fixed in a tangible medium of expression such as on paper, tape or computer disk; and (3) it must have, at least, some creativity, that is, it must be produced by an exercise of human intellect.

A creative work is protected by a Copyright the moment the work assumes a tangible form; also, referred to as “fixed in a tangible medium of expression”. Contrary to popular belief, providing a Copyright notice and/or registering the work with the U.S. Copyright Office are not necessary to obtain basic Copyright protection; but, are helpful in a Copyright dispute.

Generally, a Copyright is owned by the creator of the work with three notable exceptions: (1) if a work is created by an employee in the course of his/her employment, the work is called a “work for hire” and the Copyright is owned by the employer; (2) if the work is commissioned, and the parties sign a written work made for hire agreement, generally the Copyright will be owned by the commissioning party; or (3) if the creator of the work sells the Copyright to another party.

The owner of a Copyright may assign all of the Copyright or grant a license to use the work in order for another party to reproduce the work; display or perform the work; distribute the work; and/or prepare adaptations of the work.

In some cases a Copyrighted work may be used without permission of the owner if the use is considered “fair use”. Fair use may occur when the work is being used for teaching, research, scholarship, parodies, criticism or journalism. Fair use is not an authorized use, but, merely, a defense to a Copyright infringement claim which may have to be resolved by a Court.

This is a complicated area of the law and you may want to consult with an attorney who specializes in copyright and patent law.