Copyright protection applies to original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression that can be perceived, reproduced, or communicated, whether directly or with the aid of a machine or device.
Protection attaches automatically on the fixing of the work of authorship in any tangible medium without regard to whether the work is published or unpublished. Statutory copyright does not protect ideas, procedures, processes, systems, methods of operation, concepts, principles, or discoveries, regardless of the form in which they are described, explained, illustrated, or embodied. The copyright laws, which only protect expression, do not require complete originality. An idea can be copied, but not the manner of expression. Therefore, it does not matter if a work of authorship is identical to another work, so long as there was independent creation.
Copyright protection also applies to compilations and derivative works. A compilation is a collection of preexisting material which has been assembled into a new form. What can be protected as a compilation is that which is contributed by the author of the compilation; that is, the manner in which the preexisting material is arranged. The underlying copyrights still exist and the author of the compilation does not obtain any rights in the underlying work. A derivative work is also employs preexisting material but also new material contributed by the author.
As discussed earlier, copyright protection attaches when a work of authorship is fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Neither publication (with or without notice) nor registration is required for copyright protection to attach.
Copyright registration is a prerequisite for an infringement suit and if the infringing conduct took place before registration, there are limitations on the remedies available to the copyright owner. Copyright registration is effective on the date that an application, deposit, and fee, which are later determined to be acceptable for registration, are received in the Copyright Office.
We recommend that you file an application for copyright registration no later than three (3) months after the first publication of the work. By doing so, you will be maximize your rights and qualify for statutory damages and attorneys fees in the event that you have to litigate the question of copyright infringement and are successful in doing so.
With regard to a copyright notice, while notice is no longer required, it is still the recommended practice. Therefore, on all published works, you should use one of the following forms of notice:
Copyright © (year of publication) (name of owner)
Copyright (year of publication) (name of owner)
For works that have not yet been published, you can use an alternative form of notice. For example, you can use:
Unpublished Work, Copyright © (name of owner)
Then, if there is an inadvertent or unauthorized publication, you will still place potential infringers on notice of your rights in the work.
Works in the public domain in the United States cannot be the subject of U.S. copyright protection. Since such works may be copied and used by anyone insofar as the U.S. copyright law is concerned, they may be freely combined with new matter or otherwise incorporated or embodied in compilations or in abridgments, adaptations, arrangements, dramatizations, translations, or other derivative forms. If the new matter contains sufficient original authorship to support a copyright, registration may be based on such new matter. However, in any such case, copyright extends only to the new material and does not imply any exclusive right in the public domain material.
Works in the public domain include those whose once valid U.S. copyright has expired and works otherwise dedicated the public either voluntarily or by operation of law. Also considered part of the public domain are edicts of government, which are uncopyrightable for reasons of public policy. In addition, works of the U.S. Government, that is, works prepared by officers or employees of the U.S. Government as part of such persons' official duties are not copyrightable.
Although not in the public domain, names, titles, slogans, and other short phrases or expressions are generally not copyrightable, even if such expressions are novel, distinctive, or lend themselves to a play on words.