Let’s take a look at each concept individually with an overview of intellectual property, a definition of copyright, and an explanation of how copyright fits into the universe of intellectual property.
What Is Intellectual Property?
According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), intellectual property:
“…refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names, and images used in commerce."
It is a blanket term for a variety of assets created by the mind otherwise classified as intangible property. The rights to the intellectual property can be claimed exclusively by the creator or recipient of ownership transfer and covers the expression of an idea rather than the idea itself.
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IP law includes ways to protect the creative expressions of the intellect that carry commercial and moral value. There are several types of intellectual property including:
Intellectual property rights are believed to encourage the creative process as well as promote investment by ensuring the investors receive a return on their investment.
What Is a Copyright?
Copyright, then, is the protection extended to the creator of an original work. It provides the sole rights to the use and distribution of the work and normally ends after a specific period of time. After the time is up, the copyright can be renewed, or the work will pass into the public domain where it legally may be used without giving notice of the original creator and without the need for recompense to the former owner.
A copyright can also be sold and the ownership transferred to a different entity which is then the recipient of any recompense from its use and retains sole rights for use and distribution.
Copyrights protect a wide variety of expressions of an idea including:
- Books and literary works
- Written and recorded music
- Works of art
- Photographs and images
Copyright grants the right to display a work via video or radio, present the work publicly, and create or sell copies of the work as well as derivations of the work.
Thanks to Sonny Bono, a rare entertainer who entered Congress, current US law provides for a copyright to extend 50 to 100 years following the death of the creator. More specifically, works that were first created on or after January 1, 1978, secured Federal Statutory Protection from the moment of creation for the life of the creator plus an additional 70 years. (By the way, this information is from a document created and copyrighted by the United States Copyright Office.)
Copyrights get tricky, though. The Copyright Act of 1976 was amended in 1998 to establish a single copyright term but different methods for computing the duration of the copyright. Copyrighted works fall into two categories; the first type is mentioned above: those works first created on or after January 1, 1978.
Works already in existence but not published or copyrighted on January 1, 1978, receive copyright protection but the calculation for the number of years after the creator’s death differs depending on the nature of authorship. It could be life plus 70, 95, or 120 years. All works are guaranteed at least 25 years of copyright protection.
There are several other variations and calculations depending on when the original copyright was obtained, when it expired, and whether an automatic renewal or extension occurs.
Copyright as Intellectual Property Protection
Intellectual property is protected by laws specific to the expression of an idea. Copyright is the law specific to the expression of ideas in visual or audio form. Unlike a trademark that indicates a specific item or design is protected, copyright covers a different expression of thought.
The term copyright contains within it the meaning of the term: the right to the copy. Copy is anything written, photographed, drawn, painted, or otherwise produced as an audible, written, or visual piece of intellectual property.
You cannot compare copyright with intellectual property; copyright is a form of intellectual property. Defending a copyright requires different expertise from defending a trademark. If you require legal advice on a copyright issue, make sure the attorney you select understands your particular needs.
Just because someone is a patent lawyer does not mean he or she can knowledgeably defend your copyright.