What You Need to Know About Copyright Requirements

Wondering what is required for a copyright and why you should register a copyrighted work? Here is what you need to know. 

What is required for a copyright?

There are three requirements for a work to be copyrighted:

  • The work must have the correct subject matter (expression, not just ideas).
  • The work must be fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Works such as choreography and dances must be videotaped to be fixed.
  • The work must be original, and the author must have created it independently.

How do I tell ideas apart from expression?

The method most courts apply is an abstraction test. The court will look at the makeup of a work, and abstract from the specific to the general in describing the work. Copyright lawyers can help in analyzing the contradictory precedents.

How do I tell if a work is functional?

Architecture, sculpture, and industrial design are only copyrightable to the extent the creative expression in them is “conceptually separable” from their function. For example, a sculpture could not be copyrighted if it served to hold up a building and had no other ornamentation. What qualifies as conceptually separable, however, varies greatly from court to court and case to case.

What is a valid copyright notice, and do I have to put it on my work to get protection?

A copyright notice should contain the word “copyright” or a “c” in a circle (©), the date of publication, and the name of either the author or owner of the copyright rights. While not required, all works published should include a valid copyright notice to maximize legal benefits and because the very existence of a notice may deter infringers.

Why should I register a copyrighted work?

Registration of a work with the US Copyright Office creates a presumption of ownership in the copyright. If someone copies your copyrighted work, you may file suit and, if successful, receive statutory damages and attorneys’ fees. Without a registration, you may not receive damages. In addition, registration has no time limit. You can register many years after initially copyrighting a work as long as the copyright has not expired. Finally, registering is not costly and requires little paperwork.

Learn more about our approach to trademark and copyright law.