How do I obtain and protect a copyright on my work?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Copyright protection arises upon creation of a work, even without formal action on the part of the author. However, it is wise to always place a copyright notice–typically a “c” inside a circle (©), with a year next to it and the name of the copyright holder–on every publication of the work.

If you want to further protect your copyrighted material, you will need a formal copyright from the United States Copyright Office. This way, you will be able to take legal action if your work is infringed upon. Visit the United States Copyright Office online for basic information. Unlike with a patent, you must submit a complete copy of the copyrighted work to the copyright library for approval. This is necessary to ensure that your work is unique and that it remains unique from similar works by someone else.

When applying for a copyright you simply fill out the form and send it in with a copy of your work and a fee. You may be able to complete the form online, but some applications must be completed on paper and mailed in with the appropriate fee and deposit. Once the US Copyright Office receives the form, they review your work and either approve, deny, or request further information.

Under current law, your copyright is honored by most countries in the world. This means, for instance, that your copyrighted movie cannot be pirated in Turkey. If it is, then you have the right to prosecute the offender. The tricky part of copyright protection is in discovering the breach of copyright. It’s a big world, it can be very difficult for artists and writers to find out if their copyright has been violated. If your writing is online, consider using plagiarism software to occasionally see if any “copies” of your work show up on other websites. In addition, if you are a musician, run a search for your most popular songs through Google and make certain that no one has posted any of the songs online without your permission.

If you have further questions regarding copyright protection or how to obtain a copyright, contact an attorney who specializes in intellectual property law.

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