Copyright- The Long and Short of It

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 Their scope includes but is not limited to published and unpublished literary works, paintings, software, movies, advertisements, maps, and technical drawings.

Copyrights first evolved as an 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 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.

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, registered copyright protects the creator in the 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 of goods in violation of intellectual property rights, thus protecting the authenticity of original creators. Only a registered owner of a copyright can partake in this program.

This is the most valuable benefit arising from registration with the U.S. Copyrights office. In the 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 a 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.

Applications Process & Cost

Each individual piece of work requires 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 on infringement. The court decides over every trial on a case-by-case basis. Petitioners often invest a 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 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 property. As such, copyright only covers “material forms of expression” and not ideas, methods, or techniques.

Sought ByAuthors, painters, artists, and other creative professionalsT – Businesses, product owners.
P – inventors, scientists
Subject MatterTangible works of authorship, photographs, films, sculptures, etc.T – Name, Symbol, design exclusive to a business.
P – Machine Designs, Processes, Chemical compositions
ValidityProtection lasts for up to 70 years after the death of the author.T – Valid indefinitely, however, with renewal every 10 years.
P – 20 years from the filing date

In the USA

  • The Copyrights Act of 1976 governs the copyright law in the US.
  • Registrations can be made by applying to the US Copyright Office Website.
  • The application is reviewed for errors and confirms the existence of tangible subject matter. Upon satisfaction, the office grants the certificate of registration.
  • The work sought to be copyrighted and 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 the 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 form to an original idea. For example, an idea of a book does not qualify for copyright. But translating that idea into a book inherently grants copyright to its author.

Continue reading – Type of Intangible Assets.

Sanjay Borad

Sanjay Bulaki Borad

Sanjay Borad is the founder & CEO of eFinanceManagement. He is passionate about keeping and making things simple and easy. Running this blog since 2009 and trying to explain "Financial Management Concepts in Layman's Terms".

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