Copyright Law Basics That All California Businesses Should Be Aware of

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The copyright law in California applies to all businesses that want a robust strategy to protect their intellectual property. Understanding how the US Copyright Act works can allow a business owner to make the most of all the tools available under the law and gain a competitive advantage over others in the industry. Below is explaining how copyright protection works and how you can benefit from it.

Copyright Law Basics

The Article I, Section 8 [Clause 8], of the United States Constitution, also known as the Patent and Copyright Clause, says that Congress has the power “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.” The primary legislation governing copyright in the country, the Copyright Act 1976, stemmed from this authority provided to Congress by the US Constitution. This law was enacted on January 1, 1978.

Later in October 1998, Congress made a few key changes to the Copyright Act by including the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) into it. The major copyright law, which concerns software protection and digital technology, was codified in the Copyright Act at 17 USC sections 512, 1201-1205, 1301-1332. The changes made to the copyright law were partially required in order to make it comply with the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty and the WIPO Copyright Treaty. In any case, the inclusion of DMCA in the Copyright Act strengthened the way it protected IP rights of individuals as new information and communication technologies emerged.

What the Copyright Law Covers

The US Copyright Act can be used to protect any eligible “original works of authorship, which are fixed in a tangible form of expression”. Generally, it includes literary works, pantomimes and choreographic works, sound recordings, dramatic works (and any accompanying music), musical works (and any accompanying words), motion pictures and other audio-visual works, architectural works, as well as graphic, pictorial, and sculptural works.

Note that it is also possible to copyright a work of authorship that is not included in the above list, such as the works that are not actually artistic, like software and databases. However, a business entity cannot use copyright law to protect ideas, principles, discoveries, procedures, devices, facts, or names, titles, short phrases, and slogans. The Copyright Act does not apply to articles that have a practical function either.

As fixation is the main condition to qualify for copyright protection, the artistic works that are not set in a tangible form cannot be protected by the law. For instance, any choreographic work that has not been recorded or notated, or an improvisational performance or speech that has not been recorded or written, cannot be protected using the US Copyright Act. On the other hand, other forms of works, such as software and database, can be protected under the trademark registration act, patent rights, and trade secret law in California too. At the same time, copyright law can be used to protect the software code, which is the original artistic expression of the application.

In the case of the logo of a business, it can be protected by the Copyright Act because it acts as a trademark, which indicates that all the products having the brand logo have come from the same source. The artistic and creative aspects of the company logo can also be protected using copyright law. A professional intellectual property lawyer can help you to understand which elements of a business branding can be included under copyright protection.

Copyright Ownership

Generally, the author of the work retains the copyright for the work. If two individuals worked together on it then they both would be the co-owners of the copyright unless an agreement is made that states differently. However, in a company where the employer hires an employee to work on something the copyright remains with the employer and not the employee who produced the work. As the employee is paid for the commissioned work the employer is considered the author of the work, giving them the copyright ownership.

In the case of an independent contractor, the business owner should have them sign an agreement stating that the completed work should be “made for hire” in order to own the copyright. Otherwise, the business owner retains the copyright only when the work is part of a bigger literary work, such as a story in a magazine or a poem in an anthology, or a translation. Moreover, if the work done by the contractor is part of a motion picture or any other audio-visual work, an instructional text, a compilation, an atlas, a test or answer material for an examination, or a supplementary work, such as an introduction, afterword, editorial note, chart, appendix, bibliography, or index, then the organization would retain the copyright for the work.

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