Copyright law is a rather nuanced area of the law, filled with subtleties that paint the copyright world more gray than black-and-white. But given the significant commercial value that copyrightable materials hold for most businesses, it’s critical for business owners and executives to understand and protect their copyright interests.
Below is a very high-level, incomplete, general overview of a few aspects of copyright law. Do not rely on it as legal advice because it is not legal advice.
What Does Copyright Law Cover?
The copyright statute protects original works expressed in a tangible medium that fall into these eight categories:
- literary works;
- musical works, including any accompanying words;
- dramatic works, including any accompanying music;
- pantomimes and choreographic works;
- pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works;
- motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
- sound recordings; and
- architectural works
Works in these categories include things like music and sound recordings (two distinct copyright interests), novels, poetry, movies, screenplays, theatrical works, sculptures, computer software (including websites and apps), and architectural plans and buildings, among others. Copyright law does not protect facts, ideas, concepts, systems, titles, names, slogans, principles, processes or methods of operation, among other things.
Copyright law reserves to the copyright owner the exclusive right to:
- reproduce the work in copies or phonorecords;
- prepare derivative works based upon the work;
- distribute copies or phonorecords of the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending;
- publicly perform the work, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
- publicly display, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work; and
- publicly perform sound recordings by means of a digital audio transmission
Authors of works of visual art have the additional rights of attribution and integrity (the right to be identified as an author, and the right to prevent any substantive modifications to the work, respectively).
An individual who contributes to an original work is considered an author of the work, with two notable exceptions: (i) employees acting within the course and scope of their employment, and (ii) independent contractors who prepare works falling into one of nine categories that are specially commissioned or ordered, and for which there is a written agreement detailing the scope of work and relationship. Works created under either of these arrangements are called “works for hire,” and ownership vests in the employer or person who commissioned the work.
Copyrightable materials may have multiple joint authors, if the authors intend that their contributions be merged into a single work. In the absence of a written agreement allocating ownership interests, the contributing joint authors are deemed to have equal ownership rights, e.g., if there are two authors each owns 50% interest, if there four authors each owns a 25% interest, and so on. But ownership interests can be–and frequently are–allocated by written agreement of the authors based on the quantity and quality of their respective contributions, among other possible factors. Verbal agreements regarding transfers of copyright ownership interests are invalid; all such agreements must be in writing to be enforceable.
In Depth Experience and Legal Knowledge
With more than 23 years of experience in the copyright field, Hank Fasthoff is well-versed in helping clients understand copyright law, and protecting and enforcing their rights. Below is a sample list of the advice, counseling and transactional services we provide to protect and commercialize our clients’ copyright interests:
- Drafting of copyright licenses and assignments
- Negotiation and drafting of commercial agreements where copyright interests are the primary or a significant source of value, e.g., software licenses
- Advising clients on the legal aspects of commercializing copyrights
- Counseling clients with respect to termination rights under the Copyright Act
- Obtaining copyright registrations for musical works, sound recordings, audiovisual works, screenplays, artwork, photographs, software, books, architectural plans and other works
- Drafting of employment agreements and independent contractor agreements designed to maximize copyright ownership of works created by employees and independent contractors
- Drafting and recording of intellectual property assignments
- Negotiation and drafting of nondisclosure and confidentiality agreements to protect various forms of copyrightable material and other intellectual property
With 23+ years of experience representing clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies to celebrities to small business owners and entrepreneurs, the Fasthoff Law Firm is able to guide clients through the subtle and nuanced world of copyright law and other intellectual property rights. For more information on Hank’s experience with copyright litigation and other intellectual property litigation, click here. Feel free to contact the firm now to discuss how we may be able to assist you and your business.
Some of the clients for whom Hank has provided representation and legal services include:
Contact the Fasthoff Law Firm Today
Intellectual property rights are mostly a matter of federal law, so the Fasthoff Law Firm is able to assist clients from around the country. If you are in need of a copyright lawyer or copyright attorney in The Woodlands or a copyright lawyer or copyright attorney in Houston, contact the Fasthoff Law Firm, an intellectual property law firm, copyright law firm and trademark law firm with offices in Houston and The Woodlands, to learn more about how your intellectual property rights can be protected and enforced so as to help maximize their value in your business.
Hank is AV-rated (highest) by Martindale-Hubbell, is a Top Rated Intellectual Property Attorney by Texas Super Lawyers®, was ranked for five consecutive years as a Texas Super Lawyers® Rising Star in the fields of Entertainment and Intellectual Property, and has been ranked from 2013-present by US News & World Reports’ Best Lawyers® Litigation – Intellectual Property Litigation.