A copyright grants to the creator of an original work the right to control if and when that original work can be used by others. The copyright exists from the moment the worked has been fixed in some format. It can be written down, made an audio recording or other appropriate rendition. The copyright exists whether or not the item has been published. Copyright protects a wide variety of material, including literary works, music, images and computer programs. (17 USC 102(a)) A copyright cannot be obtained for an idea, but only for the fixed expression of that idea. A copyright protects the work for a term of the life of the author plus 70 years. (17 USC 302(a))
Technically the copyright exists even if it is not registered. However, registration is a fairly simple and inexpensive procedure and can be accomplished online through the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress. Registration is necessary should you ever want to bring an action for infringement. (see US Copyright Office circular #1, available at www.uscopyright.gov)
When the material is created in the course of employment, either as a regular employee or a contractor, the work for hire doctrine provides for the copyright to exclusively belong to the employer unless there is a signed contract to the contrary.
People sometimes refer to something called a “poor man’s copyright” which involves mailing to work to yourself in a sealed envelope. However, there is no provision for this in the law. It provides no legal right and would be unlikely to be accepted in court as it easy to falsify by sending yourself an empty envelope and placing something in it later.
Copyright registration does not provide protection beyond the borders of the United States. However, the US is party to two treaties which help simplify the process of obtaining protection in other countries.
They are the Berne Convention (Berne) and the Universal Copyright Convention (UCC). Essentially copyright registration in one member country makes it much easier to get protection in any other member country. Generally, they provide protection for creations that have been published in any member country. The Berne Convention does not require any specific conduct for the treaty to provide protection. In 2009 a case in the Delaware District Court found that the Berne Convention is intended to be “frictionless” and that there can be no imposition of formal registration before the Berne protections apply. (Moberg v Leygues, 666 F Supp 2d 415 (2009)) The UCC does require the copyright symbol (c inside of a circle), the name of the copyright owner and the date of the first year it was published. Furthermore, the notice must be placed so that it is clearly visible and provides adequate notice of copyright. Use of the copyright notice prevents any claim be of innocent infringement.
The Centauri Law Group can assist you with all manner of Intellectual Property litigation as well as registration of trademarks and copyrights.