Copyright protection exists from the moment a work is created in a fixed, tangible form of expression. The copyright immediately becomes the property of the author who created the work. Only the author, or those deriving their rights through the author, can rightfully claim copyright. In the case of works made for hire, the employer—not the writer—is considered the author.
Duration of Copyright
The term of copyright protection depends upon the date of creation. A work created on or after January 1, 1978, is ordinarily protected by copyright from the moment of its creation until 70 years after the author’s death.
For works made for hire, anonymous works and pseudonymous works (unless the author’s identity is revealed in Copyright Office records), the duration of copyright is 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter.
Registration and Notification of Copyright
The way in which copyright protection is secured is frequently misunderstood. Copyright is secured automatically when the work is created and fixed in a tangible form, such as the first time it is written or recorded. No other action is required to secure copyright protection – neither publication, registration nor other action in the Copyright Office (although registration is recommended).
The goal of copyright law, as set forth in the US Constitution, is “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” This includes incentivizing the creation of art, literature, architecture, music, and other works of authorship. As with many legal doctrines, the effectiveness of copyright law in achieving its stated purpose is a matter of debate.
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