Common Misconceptions in U.S. Copyright Law
에 게시 됨 04-09,2018, 에서 11:12 am.

Having copyright protection on your works of art is an important protection for writers, artists, musicians, and other creative types to ensure they can get paid for creating what they do. However, there is a lot of misinformation out there about copyrights – what is, and isn't protected – and it's important to know the truth.


1. If I mail it to myself, then I have a valid copyright


No! In the U.S., copyright protection is automatic when a work is created – no further action is needed. One common myth floating around is that a creator can get federal copyright protection by mailing a copy of their work to themselves.


However, it can be important to show the date a work was created, which is why registration is a great idea. It's a government-maintained record that your work was created before a certain date.


2. If it's not registered, the creator doesn't have any rights to the work


No! Because protection is automatic, a copyright holder gains those rights as soon as a work is created. However, in order to enforce many of those rights through a lawsuit, an owner would need to register the copyright with the Library of Congress. Early registration of a work (within three months of publication) provides additional rights, including statutory damages, which means that you do not have to prove how much money was lost as a result of an infringement. Statutory damages range from $750 up to $150,000 per infringement, and a judge is largely given discretion to make the determination of damages.  One other right that a copyright holder gets with registration is the ability to request their attorney fees are paid by the infringing party.


3. It's online so it's free


No! I have heard this assumption many, many times from people who are being sued for downloading movies, TV shows, and music they did not pay for. These shows are put online without the permission of the copyright holder, so if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. There are many companies across the United States who sue individuals for downloading or watching these works. For more information about these copyright trolls, please visit this website: In the U.S., it's much better to buy a Netflix subscription with unlimited streaming than roll the dice with a potential copyright lawsuit.


As with many facts of life, there are exceptions to this rule. Copyright protection have a limited lifespan – for works created after January 1, 1978, they last for the life of the author and an additional 70 years. This means that every work will eventually become part of the public domain and can be freely accessed and distributed… eventually. One resource to access these public domain books is Project Gutenberg ( which provides free online access to books.


4. It's on my phone/camera, so I own the picture


No! In the U.S., copyright belongs to the person who took the photograph. So, when you take a photograph for a stranger, technically you own that picture. Similarly, if you take a picture on your phone and text it to a friend, you still own the copyright on that picture, and could limit someone else from sharing it on social media.


This can be particularly important when that picture could be considered compromising – maybe it is a picture of you holding a beer can when you are under the legal drinking age, or maybe a more intimate or romantic picture, only meant for a romantic partner. If the person you send that picture to puts it online – perhaps several months later, after a breakup, in order to get revenge for ending the relationship – you have the option to use the “take-down” provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to have the picture removed from websites and internet searches.


Sadly, the impermissible sharing of private photographs has become too common in our digital age. Although some states are taking steps to ensure that victims of this practice have additional rights and remedies, often victims can only rely on tenants of the copyright law in order to remove these photographs from the internet.


Another interesting derivative of this rule – the person pushing the shutter owns the photograph – stems from a 2008 photograph that was taken by a monkey on a camera set up in an Indonesian forest, set up by a U.K. photographer hoping for that exact photograph. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), on behalf of the monkey, sought to have the monkey given the copyright of this photograph. The U.S. Copyright office ultimately decided that works created by non-humans (i.e. animals) cannot receive copyright protection – and these works are part of the public domain. For more information, and to see the monkey, click here:


5. My idea is protected by copyright law


No! In the 2010 film, The Social Network, Mark Zuckerburg is sued for taking the idea of creating a social network from two fellow Harvard students and turning this idea into the cultural and political behemoth now known as Facebook. When watching this movie as a second-year law student, I annoyed half the theater by exclaiming, rather loudly, “you can't copyright an idea!”


The copyright statute requires works to be put into a fixed medium – whether a recording, on physical paper, or as a file on the computer, for example. That brilliant novel existing only in my head is not copyrightable, and I cannot sue my favorite author or TV series for copying my ideas. In fact, I also probably cannot sue for copying portions of my life, and almost definitely not if I can't show they had any connections with me.


Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and is not meant to be legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship. Please speak with an attorney specializing in U.S. Copyright Law regarding any specific questions or concerns you may have, and please utilize the resources available at the U.S. Library of Congress, available at

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