Copyright- The Long and Short of It

What is Copyright?

A copyright is a legal entitlement bestowed upon the author/creator to secure complete exclusivity and control over their original works. Their scope includes but is not limited to published as well as unpublished literary works, paintings, software, movies, advertisements, maps and technical drawings.

Copyrights first evolved as outcome of The Copyrights Act of 1790 of the U.S. constitution. Its founding purpose was to encourage learning and education. Therefore, authors of original works on academic subjects were granted incentives to publish more and license their work by means of a copyright. The creative monopoly provided an incentive to publish more, thus benefiting the public at large.

Today, the Copyrights mainly exist to protect original creators against plagiarism. It also enables authors to better monetize their work with effective licensing and royalty agreements in place.

Why is Copyright Registration Important?

Public record of Ownership

A copyright registration causes the work to be published in the Copyright’s Office Catalog. It also enables public access for review and knowledge sharing. Additionally, a registered copyright protects the creator in face of alleged infringement and goes a long way in substantiating ownership.

Import of Infringed Works

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program seizes and detains imports goods in violation of intellectual property rights thus protecting the authenticity of original creators. Only a registered owner of a copyright can partakes in this program.

Enforcement Rights with Copyright Registration

This is the most valuable benefit arising from registration with the U.S. Copyrights office. In absence of a certificate even a valid owner would not be able to protect his works against infringements. Registration of a copyright is thus critical to protect against potential trespassers.

Eligibility to Claim Damages

The owner is entitled to statutory damages upon registration of Copyright prior to infringement or within three months of publication of work. However, proving damages may be a tricky task. The security of statutory damages makes it easier to recover certain amount upon infringement notwithstanding the onus to prove actual damages.


Additional Rights

In addition to exclusive ownership, there are five other rights flowing from registration:

Reproduction Right

Right to copy, imitate or transcribe in any form.

Modification Right

Right to create new work based on existing work (derivative work).

Distribution Right

Right to disburse copy of work to the public by sale, rental or lending

Public Performance Right

Right to recite, play, act or display the work or a part thereof to the public at large.

Public Display Right

Right to show the direct copy of work by film, image or any other medium to the public at large.

The Downside of Copyright Registration

Applications Process & Cost

Each individual piece of work requires a separate copyright. Every application must be accompanied with extensive registration documents which remain vulnerable to troublemakers. A single registration may cost anything between $35 to $220. These factors make copyright registration an expensive and time-consuming affair.


In the majority of cases, the subject matter of copyright is a creative work. Therefore, by its inherent nature it becomes difficult for the courts to distinguish between original works and derivative works not bordering infringement. The court decides over every trial on a case by case basis. Petitioners often invests huge amount of time and money in defending the authenticity of a work. Only to realize that no infringement has occurred as per the court’s definition.

Fair Use Limitation

This is perhaps the most serious limitation of Copyrights. It refers to the copying or limited use of copyrighted material under the pretext of “public benefit” or transformation purposes. However, “transformative” has not been clearly defined by law. Consequently, it is the most popular defense in cases of the alleged infringement. This loophole, therefore, leaves legitimately copyrighted works susceptible to infringement.

How is it different from Patents or Trademarks?

Tangibility is the determining factor distinguishing Copyrights from other forms of intellectual properties. As such, copyright only covers “material forms of expression” and not ideas, methods or techniques.12

Particulars Copyright Trademarks/Patents
Sought By Authors, painters, artists and other creative professionals T-Businesses, product owners.
P-inventors, scientists
Subject Matter Tangible works of authorship, photographs, films, sculptures etc. T-Name, Symbol, design exclusive to a business.
P-Machine Designs, Processes, Chemical compositions
Validity Protection lasts for up to 70 years after death of the author. T-Valid indefinitely however with renewal every 10 years.
P- 20 years from filing date

Copyright Laws

In the USA

  • The Copyrights Act of 1976 govern the copyright law in the US.
  • Registrations can be made by applying to the US Copyright’s Office Website (
  • The application is reviewed for errors and confirming the existence of tangible subject matter. Upon satisfaction, the office grants the certificate of registration.
  • The work sought to be copyrighted is deposited with the Office of Copyrights. The deposit copy then goes towards the Library of Congress as a part of its records of work. It also serves as evidence in case of an infringement proving the work being re-claimed is in fact the original work already submitted.
  • All petitions for transfers, assignments and termination of transfers must be first applied for with the US Copyrights office. The office then issues constructive notice to the public of any such events. Such notices also aid in establishing priority in case of any conflicts.

In the United Kingdom

  • Governed by Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.
  • Originated from a concept of common law, Statute of Anne, 1709. It was the first ever statute to provide for regulation of copyrights by government and courts rather than private parties.
  • Valid for 70 years (50 years in case of sound recordings) from the end of the year in which the author of the work dies.
  • The government does not maintain a register of copyrights. Copyright automatically comes into existence upon giving tangible from to an original idea. For example, an idea of a book does not qualify for a copyright. But translation of that idea into book inherently grants copyright to its author.

FAQ About Copyrights, Registration, Protection, and Assignment. Copyrighted. April 2018. [Source]
Copyright Definition – Entrepreneur Small Business Encyclopedia. Entrepreneur. January 2020. [Source]
Last updated on : January 2nd, 2020
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