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The Copyright Act of 1976

There are a number of things that the Federal government retained original jurisdiction of. Surprisingly, whether something is an original work with artistic value is a federal question.

The copyright law is codified in the federal statute Title 17 of the U.S. Code. The Act imposes threshold requirements before a work may be entitled to copyright protection. One of the most common misconceptions is that you must register a copyright in order to have “ownership” of a work. The Copyright Act does not, however, require registration as a condition to copyright.

The Copyright Act provides protection for the life of the author plus 70 years.

To learn more about The Copyright Act and how to obtain protection for an original work under the Copyright Act, contacted an experienced copyright and intellectual property attorney in Houston, Texas for more information.

Attorney Michael D. Sydow is a lawyer with decades of experience defending the rights of the creators of original works of authorship, artists, and companies that own trade dress. Sydow Law Firm accepts copyright cases throughout the greater Houston metropolitan area, including in Harris County, Galveston County, Fort Bend, and Brazoria County, Texas.

Call (713) 622-9700 to schedule an initial consultation with our office.



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What is Copyrightable Subject Matter?

It is important to realize that not everything that a person creates may be copyrighted under the Copyright Act of 1976. There are three requirements that must be satisfied in order for a work to be considered eligible for copyright protection.

  • Subject matter
  • Duration
  • Formality*.

Thus, in § 102 (a) of the Copyright Act, the statute states that copyright protection exists in “original works of authorship, fixed in any tangible medium of expression…”


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What is a Fixed Work of Authorship?

Whether a work has copyright protection can be a very complex question. Especially since such protection may not extend to every element of a work. According to the Act, a work is “fixed” when it satisfies three requirements:

  • It is capable of perception, reproduction, and may be otherwise communicated;
  • It exists for more than a transitory duration of time; and
  • It was created by or under the authority of an author.

These three elements are important because there may be multiple “works of authorship” in a single embodiment or “copy” of work.

For example, with a CD there could be a copyright in the composition, the sound recording, the lyrics, or the cover art; and different people could own each of these things.

On the other hand, a living garden could not be copyrighted because it is not fixed –the garden will die.


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When is a Work Considered “Original?” for Purposes of Copyright?

The standard for whether something is “original” is lower than most people realize. In order for a work to be considered “original,” it must be an independent creation and have a modicum of creativity. It should be noted that facts are not copyrightable because they do not have their origin in a particular author.

In addition, a work of authorship may be built upon. These are called derivative works. A derivative work is a work based upon one or more pre-existing works. An author could copyright his or her new work separate from the original that it was based upon. For example, J.K. Rowling owns Harry Potter as a written work, however, Warner Brothers Co., owns Harry Potter as a film.

This does not mean that there cannot be co-ownership. Co-ownership is a separate question. The point is that ownership can exist in two separate works based off of the same thing.


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What are Formalities in Copyright?

The U.S. recognizes that formalities are not required for an author to get copyright protection. Some countries require formality. Formalities are (1) recording a work, (2) registering a work, or (3) providing notice of a work.

Thus, there is an asterisk on formalities above, because while the U.S. does not require copyright, other countries do. Most works of authorship transcend country borders, and in order to ensure protection, a copyright must fulfill one of the three formalities.

In addition, to keep track of the use of a work, an author should adhere to a formality. Once a work has been registered, noticed, or recorded, any subsequent use will be accounted for.


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Additional Resources

The Curious Case of Formalities – Visit the U.S. Copyright Office, for a full analysis of whether the United States should reinstitute formalities as a prerequisite to copyright protection. The article represents the written version of the David Nelson lecture given by Maria A. Pallante at Berkeley Law School. Congress created the U.S. Copyright Office in 1897 as a separate federal department and subpart of the Library of Congress. The Office has specific authority under the Copyright Act.

What is a Copyright – to learn more about copyrights and how to obtain protection for an original work visit the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). WIPO is the global intellectual property form that provides services, policies, information, and cooperation on the copyrights of the world. WIPO was established in 1967 and currently consists of 191 member states.


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If you or someone you know has created an original work of authorship and has questions about whether his or her work will be protected under the copyright laws of the United States, contact Sydow Law Firm.

Our office has represented multiple clients seeking to trademark a logo or branding template, protect trade dress, and other intellectual property. Attorney Michael Sydow can assist you in filing the required forms with the U.S. Copyright Office, WIPO and other entities that govern IP rights.

Call Sydow Law Firm at (713) 622-9700 now to schedule a consultation.


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Sydow Law Firm