What is copyright protection? Copyright is the right of an author or creator of a literary or artistic work to control how their work is used or exploited. Copyright can apply to many things, including:
a. a piece of writing, such as a book, an article or a letter. Shorter snippets of writing may not be substantial enough to attract copyright protection but could be protected by a registered trademark.
b. an artistic work, such as an artwork, logo design or sculpture. Sometimes copyright in 3 dimensional artworks can be lost if replicas of those artworks are put into production, in which case, it may be necessary to apply for design registration instead of relying on copyright protection.
c. music, film and theatrical works.
d. computer code. This is often relied upon by software developers to circumvent reverse engineering.
e. compilations, such as directories, databases or collages. In this case, copyright might not apply to the actual content but to the way in which certain information has been arranged if there has been sufficient skill and labour exercised in the compilation.
How do I protect copyright? Copyright arises automatically upon the creation or publication of a work, so there is no need to apply for registration. However, if there is a market for your copyright work in the USA, it may be wise to consider registering your copyright there since this is one of the only jurisdictions in the world to have a copyright registration system.
How long does copyright protection last? The term of copyright protection varies according to the type of copyright, but for most forms of copyright, copyright protection extends for 70 years after the death of the author. This ensures that your beneficiaries will have the benefit of exploiting your copyright well into the future. It also means that you should ensure that copyright is treated as an asset of your estate when preparing your will to avoid future disputes regarding ownership.
Who owns the copyright? In most cases, the owner of copyright is the person who created the work. There are however exceptions to this where copyright protection in work you have created may belong to someone else. These include:
a. where work has been created pursuant to a contract of employment as part of your ordinary work duties, that copyright protection will normally belong to the employer, not the employee. This includes letters, precedents, guides, logos etc. that you have created on behalf of your employer.
b. where an artistic or literary work has been contributed to by others, there may be multiple owners of copyright whose consent may be needed in order to exploit your copyright.
c. for some forms of commissioned works, such as family portraits, copyright protection will belong to the person commissioning the work rather than the photographer. However, for most commissioned works, the person who has created the work will retain the copyright, even if you have paid for it.
Copyright is an asset which can be licensed or assigned to another party by prior or subsequent agreement, however it is important that any assignment of copyright be drawn up in a contract in order to be valid.
What are moral rights? Moral rights are the rights of the author or creator to be attributed and to retain the integrity of their work. In other words, there is a duty upon users of the copyright work to acknowledge who the author is and to ensure that the work is not subjected to derogatory treatment. Those rights are independent to the copyright in a work and are usually retained by the author even where copyright has been assigned to another.
When is copyright infringed? Copyright can be infringed if there has been copying of either the whole or a significant part of the copyright work. Often the issue of determining whether infringement has occurred is complex and there are many myths circulating as to how much a work needs to be changed in order to avoid infringement. If copyright infringement is a concern, professional advice should always be sought.