Copyright Qs & As: Registration and Other Formalities for Copyright Protection

1.1 Question: Do I need a lawyer to register a copyright?

Answer: No, registration in Canada or the U.S. is fairly straightforward. Visit the Canadian Copyright Office (cipo.gc.ca) or the U.S. Copyright Office (www.copyright.gov) for registration information, forms and fees. Note that registration is not required in most countries, including Canada and the U.S., however it can provide additional copyright protection than that in unregistered works, and advantages should you ever have to initiate a legal action for copyright infringement. (2006-2)

1.2 Question: I have an idea for a television show which I would like to submit to a TV producer. If they like my idea, are they obligated to hire me to write the show or may they hire a different writer?

Answer: Generally, a TV producer will only accept your idea submission from an agent or lawyer, and the producer will ask you to sign a release form. The release will state that you are submitting your idea with no obligation and that it is possible that ideas similar to yours are already in the works by the producer and that the producer is under no obligation to you. So, yes, the producer may create and develop a show similar to your idea, using a different writer. (2006-4)

1.3 Question: On December 1, 1975, I composed a song on my piano with lyrics. On December 1, 2007, I put the lyrics and music on paper. From what date do I have copyright protection?

Answer: Automatic copyright protection begins in most countries from the time the work is first “fixed” in some manner. This would include recording a song in analogue or digital form, and writing it down on paper. In this situation, the copyright protection began on December 1, 2007. (2007-4)

1.4 Question:  I have registered my copyright works (e.g., photographs) with the Copyright Office and am going to post them on my weblog.  How do I indicate that they are protected by copyright?

Answer:  Your works are protected by copyright once they are in some sort of fixed form.  Registering your works is helpful if you ever want to enforce your rights in a legal suit.  Although you do not need to include a copyright symbol when you post your works online, it is always a good idea to do so, so others are reminded that copyright exists in your works.

1.5  Question:  A professional association of which I am a member, developed a glossary of our particular terms using two published (grey lit, not commercial publication) sources. Various volunteers added new ones, edited the originals, and even translated some into French. Am I correct in saying they have no claim to copyright the French version much less the whole thing?

Answer:  There may be two copyright issues here. First, the using of content owned by someone else. Depending on how much and what part of content you used of others, you may or may not need permission to copy, adapt and translate that content. The 2nd issue is the protection of your own work — you can have a new work using parts of other works and adding to it and adapting it, but that is a question of fact. To read more on this issue, you may want to read up on the protection of databases in your own country.

1.6 Question:  If I copyright 5 song lyrics in a collection (1 copyright form) rather than separately (5 forms), am I less protected? If someone infringes using one song but not all five, are they only 1/5th as liable because they didn’t infringe on all that was copyrighted?

Answer:  You have the same copyright protection no matter how you register the work. In fact, in Canada and the US, you are automatically protected by copyright once the work is in a fixed form – whether or not you register. Registration has advantages if you have to sue for copyright infringement. Registering a collection or group of works will save you money in terms of registration fees.

1.7 Question:  I have several photographs I will be registering with the U.S. Copyright Office.  The photographs were taken and published in different years.  Do I need separate registrations for works taken and published in different years?

Answer:  A group of photographs may be registered together as a compilation.  No need to take the time and expense of registering the works separately.

5 Comments

  1. Lesley says:

    Hi Brittany, visit the Library of Congress, Copyright Office, site and you will find a phone number and email for registration questions. The Office is quite good at responding to those questions.

  2. Brittany says:

    Hello, Lesley. I have a literature registration (with unpublished deposit). On the registration I wanted to change Contents sections, Rights and Permission section (since it contains private information) and maybe the Title. I read that form CA will not change it but will only create a separate registration (with the new information). And that form CA is used if you have published deposits. I do not want another registration if my existing registration will not be replaced by the new one. What can I do? Is there another form to only change things on the existing registratrion? Thanks.

  3. Brenda Sorrels says:

    Lesley,
    Thank you so much for anwering my question, I sincerely appreciate it. Brenda Sorrels@Lesley

  4. Lesley says:

    Hi Brenda, by “copyrighted” it, I will interpret that you have registered it with the Copyright Office. Most countries, including Canada and the U.S., have automatic copyright protection upon the creation of a work and it is not mandatory to register a work with the Copyright Office. However, there are certain advantages in registering the work prior to commencing a law suit. For minor revisions to a work, authors do not generally register the amended version of the work. Keep in mind in making this decision that the ideas in the book are not protected, just the exact words you used to express those ideas.

  5. Brenda Sorrels says:

    I have written a novel and have copyrighted it. I now want to go back and do some minor revisions, add dimension to one of the characters is all. Do I have to get it copyrighted all over again once the changes are made or am I good to go? Thank you!

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