Copyrights by Pamela A. Schechter, Esq.

In the animation industry the word copyright is used quite often. However, many people in the business are not often clear as to what a copyright actually is.

A basic form of copyright protection actually exists from the time a work is created in a fixed form. For example, this limited protection exists the moment an animator draws a character on paper. And, the copyright in this work immediately becomes the property of the animator who created it. This is called securing a copyright. However, this basic form of copyright is not nearly as strong as the copyright protection an animator can obtain by filing a copyright form with the Copyright Office. This article will discuss this type of copyright protection.

When an animator files a form with the Copyright Office, he is obtaining the strongest copyright protection available. This is called registering a copyright and it is a form of protection provided by the United States to all authors of original works. It is accomplished after a copyright is secured. or the work is fixed in a tangible form. The work can include artistic, literary, dramatic, and musical pieces. The law gives the owner of the copyright the exclusive right to reproduce the work, distribute copies of the work to the public and to perform and display the work.

All original works fixed in a tangible form are eligible for registered Copyright protection. However, titles, slogans, names, procedures and ideas are not. Remember, it is not the idea that you are copyrighting it is the tangible expression of the idea.

Copyright registration is a legal formality intended to make a public record of the basic facts of a particular copyright. This means that an animator files a copyright form which describes the work he intends to copyright. This form and a copy of the actual work is filed and the public has access to it.

A copyright form is very easy to fill out. Some of the information asked for on the form is the title of the work, the type of work, and the name of the author and his address. The forms and instruction sheets are obtained from the Register of Copyrights in Washington, D.C. There are different forms for each type of work. Make sure you fill out the correct form.

Once the form is filled out, three elements are sent to the Copyright Office. These elements are the form, a filing fee which is typically twenty dollars, and copies of the work. Keep a complete copy of what you are sending to the copyright office. This registration may be made at any time within the life of the secured work or copyright. And, registration is effective on the date the copyright office receives all of the required elements in an acceptable form. However, it takes several months to receive notice from the copyright office that your work has been registered.

Although registration is not a requirement for basic copyright protection, the copyright law of the United States affords several advantages to those who do register. These include the establishment of a public record of copyright claim, the ability to file a federal copyright infringement lawsuit and the use of the copyright notice and symbol.

The copyright notice consists of three elements. The first one is the symbol c with a circle around it, the word Copyright or the abbreviation Copr. The second element is the year of first publication and the third is the name of the owner of the copyright. Copyright notice for this article consists of Copyright 1996 Pamela A. Schechter. Notice is not mandatory. However, it is recommended because it informs the public that the work is protected by copyright and it identifies the owner and shows the year of first publication. The notice should be on the work in such a manner and location as to give reasonable notice of the claim of copyright. In this way, a person who has infringed on a copyright cannot claim that he did not realize the work is protected.

The length of copyright protection for a registered work varies. Now, most works created by one person is protected for the life of the author plus fifty years after the author's death. Works created by two or more authors have a copyright term that lasts for fifty years after the last surviving author's death. And, in a work made for hire which is a work created by an employee or an independent contractor, the term is seventy-five years from publication or one hundred years from creation, whichever is shorter.

Once any type of work in animation is secured or fixed in a tangible form, most entertainment attorneys strongly recommend that the work be registered with the Copyright office. The registration process is easy, not time consuming or expensive and affords strong protection. Therefore, always register your work with the Copyright Office. There is no excuse not to.