Copyrights have existed for centuries in legal jurisdictions around the world.
Combined with trademarks and patents, they form a powerful trio of tools for securing company of individual claims to intellectual property.
Copyright law, on the other hand, has the potential to be a complex and muddy legal area. Although original works are automatically copyrighted at the moment of creation, enforcing legal ownership of copyrights requires additional steps on the part of the work's owner, not the least of which if formal copyright registration with the appropriate governmental authority.
Treaties and conventions have remedied some of the complexities involved with international copyright protection. But how do you go about copyrighting your work in the U.S.? Are copyrights governed by federal or state government agencies? And which agency should you contact if your work isn't covered under federal copyright legislation?
Copyright Registration in the U.S.
Registration gives copyright owners added legal protection for their copyrights. Although it isn't required, it's recommended that businesses pursue copyright registration for high value literary, artistic, and recorded content, especially if the release of that content in the public domain could cause a significant threat to the value of the work or the company's business model.
Copyright registration is a function the federal government, based on the Copyright Law of 1976. The U.S. Copyright Office handles all registrations and offers copyright owners several filing options. Once the registration has been approved, the copyright's owner enjoys legal protection for all jurisdictions in the U.S.
State Roles in Copyrighting
States are prohibited from engaging in most copyrighting activities. Specifically, states are not allowed to enact legislation that extends the copyrights provided by the U.S. government. For example, if New Jersey wanted to pass a law to extend the term of copyrights from the creator's lifetime plus 70 years to the creator's lifetime plus 100 years, they could not legally do so.
However, state legislatures may be allowed to enact copyright laws for material that isn't covered under the Copyright Law of 1976 or subsequent federal legislation. With the rapid pace of technological advancements, this loophole could be important for publishers of technology-based content, so it's important to check with your state and/or legal counsel if your content doesn't appear to be covered under federal copyright laws.