Contrary to the near-indefatigable lay assumption that entertainment attorneys like myself hear all the time, one is not required to register a copyright in one’s work with the U.S. Copyright Office (USCO) at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. (or elsewhere) as a condition precedent for U.S. copyright protection. In other words, the New York-based author in Chelsea, for example, already has copyright protection in his or her finished original work of authorship, under U.S. federal law, just as soon as the work is reduced to a tangible medium of expression in New York. That copyright protection is automatic, and inheres in the Chelsea-situate New York author immediately, his or her entertainment lawyer will opine.
Therefore, when the New York entertainment attorney hears the Chelsea-based New York writer saying “I ‘copyrighted’ my novel by registering it with the Library of Congress and the Copyright Office in Washington, D.C.”, the writer is usually operating under a mistaken set of geographic and legal assumptions. It is incumbent upon entertainment lawyers to correct those assumptions. This one is a particularly difficult myth to explode – because members of Congress, those that write and edit case law, and a few jurisprudential scholars have been known to use “copyrighted” as a verb form, too. When I hear it, it sounds to me like nails on a chalkboard.
So, “No”, the New York entertainment attorney replies to the New York writer in Chelsea, “you already had automatic copyright protection in your work as soon as you wrote down the text – as soon as you reduced your vision to a ‘tangible medium of expression’. Your act of mailing it from a post office on Manhattan’s West Side in New York City, to Washington D.C., isn’t what engendered the copyright. Rather, your prior act of crystallizing it in a tangible medium here in downtown West Side New York – pen to paper, or keystroke to hard-drive – is what caused the copyright in your work to be born. The New York entertainment attorney then explains that the phrases and verb forms “to copyright” or “I copyrighted” should probably be avoided outright – certainly avoided as synonyms for “registration” or “filing” – specifically to prevent that kind of lay confusion. After all, if the Chelsea screenwriter in New York “copyrighted”[sic] his or her work only by mailing it to Washington D.C. on Friday morning, then that would imply that no copyright yet existed in the work 電子書版權 when he or she completed the final draft, hit the “Save” button on his keyboard, and printed it out in hard-copy form in his or her Chelsea home office in Manhattan on the Thursday evening prior – and that conclusion would be legally incorrect. In that fact pattern, the entertainment lawyer opines, the copyright existed and the screenwriter owned it as of Thursday evening based upon the events that happened in downtown West Side New York.
The process of U.S. copyright registration is just an after-occurring formality, though it is one which entertainment attorneys (from New York, and yes, even elsewhere in places like Hollywood) handle for their clients often. In other words, the work is already copyright-protected prior to one’s mailed submission of the work from New York or any other city, to the U.S. Copyright Office and Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Yes, U.S. copyright registration does thereafter provide certain advantages over unregistered works, as your entertainment lawyer will tell you. But copyright registration is not itself a pre-requisite for copyright protection. The copyright protection exists first. The copyright filing comes second.
After all, the USCO form specifically asks the filer when – in what year – his or her work was completed. You could in theory file in 2011 for a 2006-completed work. In that case, the copyright would have existed as of 2006.
Under the U.S. Copyright Act, (which can be found at various locations on the Internet, at 17 United States Code [U.S.C.] Section 101 and following), the author of an original and otherwise-protectable work automatically possesses a copyright in that work as soon as the work is reduced to a “tangible medium of expression”. No later.
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