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                                                                            COPYRIGHT PROTECTION
                                                                   © Martin Fruitman

Copyright is the essential system to protect interests in writing, art work, photographs, and even
computer programs,  although contractual obligations such as non-disclosure and non-distribution
agreements are always a possibility for limited protection.  Under U.S. law a copyright gives the copyright
owner the exclusive right to copy, distribute, and display the work.

Probably the most important aspect of a copyright is that the copyright comes into existence instantly
and automatically when an original work is created in tangible form.  No government permission or fees
are required. I like to think that when the work is on my computer screen it may not yet be copyrighted,
but when I have printed it out it is definitely copyrighted.  This is true even if there is no copyright notice
on the work (like the one under the title above), although it is advisable to put such a notice on a work
because it functions as a “No Trespassing” warning.  It is also possible to register the copyright, in
essence to secure a legal birth certificate for a copyright from the U.S. Copyright Office (Information and
forms are at  Such a registration is absolutely necessary to take anyone to court on
a copyright.  

Except in two special situations, the copyright belongs to the creator of the original work.  The first such
situation is when the work is created by a true employee as a part of the employee’s job, in which case
the copyright belongs to the employer.  This case does not cover an outside contractor hired to create an
original work.  When a work created by a contractor is delivered to the customer, the customer probably
has the right to use it in the manner anticipated in the order for the work, but that does not include
making copies for the use of others, whether by selling it, leasing it, or freely giving copies of it to those
others.  For example, the purchase of a painting, does not give the purchaser the right to copy and sell
prints of the painting.  However, if an artist creates a logo for a company, the courts would probably give
the company the right to duplicate it on stationery and advertising, but not likely to permit others to use it
for other purposes.  Even more interesting is the situation of a portrait photograph.  The copyright, and,
for instance, the right to publish the photograph in a book of the photographer’s work, belongs, not to
the person who sat for and paid for the photograph, but to the photographer.  On the other hand, the
photographer probably must have a release from the person who is the subject of the photograph to
publish it.

All of this brings up the second situation in which a copyrighted work does not belong to the creator of
that work.  It is when the creator and another have agreed in writing that the other party owns the
copyright.  That would be the appropriate solution in the cases above, of the logo design and the portrait
photographer.  In fact, I believe that every order for a copyrightable work should include a statement
signed by both parties in regard to which party, the creator or the purchaser, will own the copyright.  
Such a statement makes it clear initially to everyone what rights they have.  Of course, the ownership of a
copyright can always be transferred after it is created, and even after it is used by a purchaser, by a later
separate contract between the parties.

The ease of getting a copyright and the lack of the requirement for registration brings out another very
serious problem.  Essentially, it is dangerous to copy any creative work because, unless it is more than
70 years since the creator’s death, or when owned by company, 95 years since it was published, it may
still be protected by a copyright.  You never know.  My best advice is to always do your own creative
work rather than copy someone else’s work.

Please call this office if I can clarify anything more on copyrights