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Seven common myths about copyrights

News and Notes Focused on the 3 Public Faces of IP Law

  • Brand Image Protection - Trademark Law
  • Visual Image Protection - Copyright Law
  • Personal Image Protection - Right of Publicity Law

The Image Protection Law blog has been created in order to share stories and information on the legal aspects of: 1) the marketplace reputation of a company or product captured in its trademark, 2) published or publicly-displayed artwork, photography, and any created visual design, and 3) use of a person's photograph or likeness for product promotion or other commercial purposes.

The "IP3" share at least one thing in common: Image is everything. In these posts let's look at what that means in the realm of intellectual property in the news, but let's also be prepared to explore if there's something more beyond "everything." Don't forget, the intellectual in "intellectual property" doesn't mean smart or brainy, although by nature true creators often are. The word is used to refer to any creation, i.e., a "product of the mind." While this blog will be regularly updated, you are encouraged to share your thoughts on these posts.

You've heard of copyrights many times, but do you really understand how they work? Read seven of the most common myths and misconceptions about them here:

Myth #1: Copyrights only apply to books.

While books and magazine articles are certainly some of the most common works protected by copyrights, they are not the only ones. Copyrights can also safeguard musical compositions, choreographic works, sculptures, sound recordings, architectural plans and more.

Myth #2: Copyrights are used to protect ideas. 

In actuality, copyrights can only be used to protect the expression of ideas, not the concepts themselves. For instance, you can copyright a cookbook of original recipes and prevent other people from reproducing that book, but you can't prevent people from using the actual recipes to prepare food.

Myth #3: A copyright doesn't exist until the author officially registers it.

The truth is that the author of an original work owns the copyright to that work from day one, whether or not the copyright is ever registered with the government. Nevertheless, it does make sense to officially register it for several reasons. One reason is that you can't file a lawsuit for copyright infringement without registering first.

Myth #4: Whoever creates the original work is automatically the copyright owner.

This isn't always true. If the work is "made for hire," the hiring party owns the copyright. For instance, if you are a graphic designer employed by a greeting card company, your employer holds the copyright to the cards you create at your job. This can get tricky, however, when there is no employment contract in place or when the hiring party doesn't comply with the strict legal requirements necessary to make it a "work for hire."

Myth #5: If two people create the same thing, one of them must be guilty of copyright infringement. 

This is only true if one person had access to the other person's creation. If the first person never saw, heard or otherwise encountered the second person's work, then any similarities are considered completely accidental. For instance, if two artists have similar dreams that inspire them both to paint nearly identical pictures, neither is guilty of copyright infringement.

Myth #6: There is no way to enforce a copyright on the Internet. 

This is not true. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) gives copyright holders the ability to demand that websites remove any infringing content. Just because something is posted on the Internet doesn't mean that it's fair game for anyone to use, and the DMCA reinforces this.

Myth #7: It's never worth it to pursue a copyright infringement claim. 

On the contrary, a copyright infringement suit can sometimes allow the copyright owner to recover a significant amount of money. Statutory damages can potentially reach up to $150,000 for each original work that was infringed. Alternately, the copyright owner may be able to recover the profits that the infringing party unlawfully gained. In some cases, it's also possible for the copyright owner to recover attorneys' fees and costs.

To learn more about copyright issues in California and nationwide, consider consulting a lawyer with particular experience in intellectual property law.

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