The Basics of Copyright Law

by JRO on July 5, 2013

It is important for businesses and individuals alike to understand the basics of copyright and trademark law. Once you develop your business’s image and logo, the establishment of a copyright or trademark is essential. By the same token, you must also be wary that you do not infringe copyrights or trademarks of other organizations, as this can be a serious legal offense. Instead of dealing with the headache of legal action, be sure to arm yourself with the knowledge you need to build your own unique brand. For starters, you should know that The United States Patent and Trademark office oversees trademarks and the US Copyright Office oversees copyrights. This article will go over some of the basics of copyright and trademark law.

What Is a Copyright?

The basic definition of a copyright is a form of legal protection for intellectual works, also known as “original works of authorship,” that may include, but are not limited to, literary, dramatic, artistic and musical works. Thanks to the 1976 Copyright Act, any piece of work you own can be covered under basic copyright laws in the US. The owner of the work has the right to reproduce, sell or distribute it to the public or place on display any way they wish. On the flip side, others are unable to steal, profit or distribute copyrighted work. For example, a musician cannot take a piece of music from another artist without the creator’s express consent, and an art gallery is unable to reproduce copies of the original artist’s work without explicit permission from the copyrighted artist himself.

Trademark Definition

According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the basic definition of a trademark is a symbol, word, or words legally registered or established through frequent usage as representing a particular company or product. The law says that any “words, symbols, sounds, names or colors that distinguish one brand from others, cannot be manufactured, re-produced and sold to others.” Trademarks mostly pertain to commerce, so they are more likely to be of interest for business purposes, rather than a copyrighted product. All trademarks must be unique and not easily confused for another business’s trademark. If you wish to do research before establishing a business trademark, search the Trademark Electronic Search System to find other registered trademarks before spending time and energy developing your own.

Copyright Establishment

The United States Copyright Office states, “Only the original creator of the work can claim copyright.” At times, this may get a little murky. For example, if an educator employed by a school or university writes a book for a publisher the publisher then maintains copyright of the work rather than the author of the material. In the case of an artist, he or she does not have to apply for a copyright. Once the work has been created, it is automatically protected under U.S. Copyright law.

Trademark Establishment

All businesses must apply for a trademark through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Once developed, the business must compose a description of the product or service they provide. As of November 2012, the filing fee is $325.


According to United States Copyright Law, any work of art created after January 1, 1978, is automatically copyrighted from the moment of creation, until 70 years after the creator dies. This also applies in the case of a collaboration between two artists; the copyright extends to 70 years after the passing to the last surviving artist. Work-for-hire copyrights extend 120 years after the creation date, or 90 years after publication date; whichever is longer.

In addition to Copyright Law, Jay Patterson focuses on Tax Fraud, Constitutional Law, Criminal Defense and other legal issues.

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