When are Creative Works Automatically Protected Under Copyright Law?

intellectual property laws Intellectual property laws are complex and difficult for the average creator to understand. But before you hire a lawyer to protect your work with a copyright that would guarantee compensation for use of your work, however, it’s important to understand how automatic copyright works when it comes to intellectual property laws.

Many artists and writers fret over copyright and intellectual property laws without realizing that a work is essentially copyrighted as soon as it’s created. When a work is created, it doesn’t need to be registered with the U.S. copyright to qualify for copyright protection (though that will strengthen the protection a work can receive). It just has to be “fixed” in a tangible medium of creative expression.

A work becomes fixed under copyright law when it’s put down in a tangible, perceptible form like paper, film, audio tape or email message. Unrecorded speeches, live performances and live TV broadcasts that are not simultaneously recorded wouldn’t be protected because they’re not considered fixed, but a manuscript typed up and sent to an email address or a song recorded electronically would be fixed.

This is a result of the Copyright Act of 1976. Before this act was enacted, a work could only be considered protected if the human eye could directly see or read it. The act became necessary when lawmakers realized that this restricted protection to works that didn’t need the aid of a machine to view, like DVDs and CDs. Essentially, a filmmaker could be denied compensation for DVD sales because their work couldn’t be perceived with the naked eye. This is especially concerning when an estimated third of software products and music CDs tend to be fake.

When the Copyright Act of 1976 was passed, it extended automatic copyright protection to works embodied in forms that are “sufficiently permanent or stable so as to permit it to be perceived, reproduced or otherwise communicated for a period of more than transitory duration.”

Still, the percentage of intellectual property theft cases investigated by the United States International Trade Commission has risen dramatically in recent years (by 80.6% in 2010 and 23.2% in 2011) so it doesn’t hurt to be more protected. If you need to find more secure ways to protect intellectual property, contact an intellectual property lawyer. Lawyers in this area are experts in the copyright and patent laws that can formally protect your creation.