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Copyright Registration – Why bother filing? They Blew Up the Death Star Anyway!

Often, when we first speak to potential clients, they confuse patent, trademark and copyright registration into a single category in their mind. They either want to patent their book, trademark an invention, or copyright their logo.  While these three categories are typically lumped together as “intellectual property,” they each have a distinct body of law and federal statutory scheme.  One of the biggest problems with this confusion is it often results in clients not protecting their intellectual property rights at all. That is they don't file patents, copyrights, or trademarks.  If you have a question about what particular area of law applies to your needs you should speak with a competent business attorney.

Copyright Registration

The purpose of this blog is to address only the registration of copyrights and the benefits you receive by properly protecting your copyrightable material by filing a federally registered copyright.  As an example, we will talk about a fictitious copyright on detailed plans for a battle station with the capability to destroy a planet that you have tentatively named the “Death Star.”

The first thing to know about copyright registration is that any time a person creates an “original work of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression” (that is writes a book, paints a painting, sculpts a sculpture, writes a song, or devises detailed plans for a battle station with the capability to destroy a planet) that person has a common law copyright in that material. That means if someone were to copy their book, drawing, or sculpture then the original artist has the legal right to sue them for damages. However, in this context the original artist can only recover actual damages they can prove in litigation.  Assuming the artist meets the particular state’s requirements for an injunction, the artist may also be able to stop the infringer.  However, attorney’s fees are not recoverable as damages in this kind of a lawsuit; and because of the cost of any litigation this is not an appealing prospect.

There are several advantageous remedies when an artist pursues copyright registration or registers their work by filing for a copyright.  First, federal copyright law provides for injunctions to immediately stop infringement anywhere in the United States.  Second, the Court can order an impoundment (that is a seizure of all of the infringing materials).  Third, federal copyright law provides for statutory damages which are much easier to prove in litigation. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, if your work has a federally registered copyright, then you can recover attorney’s fees and costs in litigation.

Going back to our example with the Death Star.  Suppose your plans have been stolen by rebels with the hopes they can utilize them to discover a weakness?  If those plans are protected by a federally registered copyright, then you could petition a court to enjoin the rebels’ use of the plans instead reserving (as is your right) exclusive use of the plans to yourself.  You could also recover statutory damages and attorney’s fees.  Additionally, because you have protected your copyright, you could sue again when those same rebels use Bothan spies to steal your plans for Death Star 2.0.

The process to copyright a work is relatively straightforward and inexpensive, and with the benefits provided under federal law, it should be a no brainer to move forward with registration.  After you learn someone is infringing on your work is too late.  Like everything in business, you must be proactive and spend a little time and money doing it correctly the first time.  If someone does steal your work, you will be glad you did.

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