Common Law Copyrights - Everything You Need to Know - Drishti Law

Copyright is a legal concept that grants the creator of an original work exclusive rights to its use and distribution.

These exclusive rights typically include the right to reproduce, distribute, display, perform, and create derivative works based on the original creation. Copyright protection applies to a wide range of creative works, such as literary, artistic, musical, and dramatic works. The Federal Copyright Act primarily outlines and establishes copyright laws in the United States.

In this blog, we aim to provide an overview of the concept of Common Law Copyright Notice, exploring its significance and how it differs from statutory copyright protection for copyright owners.

Understanding Common Law Copyright Protection

“Common law” copyright refers to the protection of works through federal and state judicial decisions in the absence of specific legislation until the point of publication. The formalization of copyright into law occurred with Congress’s passage of the 1976 Copyright Act.

The term “notice” in copyright hints at the symbol denoting a work’s protected status, typically represented by a copyright symbol “C.” A valid copyright notice encompasses the symbol itself, the date of publication, and the author’s or owner’s name.

In the United States, common law rights automatically protect your original creations when you make them public, even without officially registering your trademark with the US Copyright Office. 

However, to further secure your works and potentially avoid costly legal issues in the future, including a copyright notice (also known as a copyright disclaimer) in your content can be beneficial. This notice serves as a means to discourage potential copyright infringement and unauthorized reproduction, distribution, or display of your work.

Types of Copyrightable Materials

Here is a list of works that can be copyrighted.

  1. Literary Works: Novels, short stories, poems, and articles.
  2. Visual Arts: Paintings, drawings, sculptures, and photographs.
  3. Musical Works: Compositions, including sheet music and lyrics.
  4. Software and Computer Programs: Code and software applications.
  5. Sound Recordings: Recorded music, spoken word, or other sounds.
  6. Audiovisual Works: Films, television shows, videos, and animations.
  7. Web Content: Websites, blogs, and digital content.

Please note that the list is not exhaustive.

Why File for a Federal Registration for Your Original Work of Authorship?

If you’ve created an original work, protecting it through federal copyright registration is beneficial. Failure to register within the specified timeframe may prevent you from claiming statutory damages, forcing you to prove actual damages, which can be challenging in copyright infringement cases.

Proving actual damages is complex, and courts often award nominal amounts, like $1, to authors who didn’t register their work. This symbolic gesture may acknowledge infringement but falls short of fair compensation, leaving you with substantial legal fees.

Considering the potential consequences, authors should prioritize copyright registration. While it may seem like a cost-saving move initially, the long-term risks and financial burden of not registering far outweigh any short-term benefits.

What is Public Domain?

In copyright law, the “public domain” refers to the status of creative works no longer protected by copyright law. Once a work enters the public domain, it can be freely used, shared, and reproduced without permission or legal restrictions, fostering innovation and broad access to cultural and educational resources.

Several factors can lead to a work entering the public domain:

  1. Expiration of Copyright Term: Copyright protection has a limited duration. For works created on or after January 1, 1978, the copyright term is the life of the author plus 70 years. For works made for hire, anonymous works, and pseudonymous works, the term is 95 years from the date of publication or 120 years from the date of creation, whichever is shorter.
  2. Failure to Renew Copyright: The copyright owner had to renew the copyright after an initial term for works created and published or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office between 1923 and 1977. The work fell into the public domain if the copyright wasn’t renewed.
  3. Dedication to the Public Domain: A copyright owner can explicitly dedicate a work to the public domain. This can be done through tools like Creative Commons licenses or other public domain declarations.
  4. Lack of Originality or Failure to Meet Formalities: Works that don’t meet the criteria for originality or fail to comply with formalities, such as proper notice or registration, may not receive copyright protection and may enter the public domain.

How To Create a Copyright Notice?

Creating a copyright notice can help assert your ownership of original creative works and inform others about the rights associated with your content.

Here’s a sample law copyright notice template that could be followed:

 1. Use the Copyright Symbol:

Start with the copyright symbol ©, or the word “Copyright,” 

2. Include the Year of First Publication:

Specify the year when the work was first published. This informs others when copyright protection began.

 3. Add the Copyright Owner’s Name:

Include the name of the copyright owner or the entity holding the rights. This could be an individual, a company, or another legal entity.

 4. Optional: Include the Term “All Rights Reserved”:

Although not required, adding “All Rights Reserved” reinforces your intention to retain exclusive rights and can provide clarity to users.

5. Specify Permissions or Restrictions:

Clearly state any specific permissions or restrictions regarding the use of the work. For example, you might indicate if specific uses are allowed or if reproduction requires explicit consent.

6. Consider Using a Creative Commons License:

If you want to provide more detailed permissions, you can use a Creative Commons license. These licenses allow you to specify how others can use your work.

 7. Placement of the Copyright Notice:

Typically, copyright notices are placed at the bottom of a webpage, on the reverse side of a print publication, or in the credits of a creative work.

 8. Include the Phrase “All Rights Reserved” for International Protection:

While the Berne Convention grants automatic copyright protection without notice, adding “All Rights Reserved” can reinforce your rights in jurisdictions that may still require it.

9. Update the Notice When Necessary:
– If significant changes to the work or its ownership exist, update the copyright notice accordingly.

 Example Copyright Notice

Here is an example of a copyright notice published by Apple.

Placement of Your Copyright Notice

If you have a website or an app, here are multiple options to include the copyright notice

Certainly, here are the suggestions without the code snippets:

 1. Footer of the Website:

Consider placing the copyright notice in the footer of your website for easy visibility on every page.

 2. Terms of Use or Legal Section:

Include a copyright notice within your website’s Terms of Use or Legal section.

3. About or Contact Page:

Display the copyright notice on pages about your company, such as the About or Contact page.

4. App Settings or Legal Information Section:

Consider placing the copyright notice within the app settings or a dedicated Legal Information section in mobile apps.

5. Splash Screen or Start-up Screen:

Some apps display copyright information on the splash or start-up screen for immediate visibility.

6. In-app Credits or About Section:

If your app includes credits or an About section, place the copyright notice there to inform users about the ownership of the content.

Ensure the copyright notice is clear, legible, and prominently displayed so users can easily identify it. Additionally, remember to update the notice each year to reflect the current year of publication.