Undertaking a discussion of copyrights within the confines of a short blog is nearly as daunting as defining the meaning of life. Our forefathers tried to define it; Congress tried to refine it; courts attempt to clarify it and international tribunals continue to grapple with a clear definition for such protections. However, in this age of blogging and social networking, where everyone thinks that they are the first to invent the wheel, I feel compelled to enlighten and share a basic copyright primer for the laymen. I was prompted by seeing so many people place a copyright notice on the corner of photos, drawings, nearly everything they post on a blog, Facebook, MySpace and the like.
So, let’s start with just the basics. You automatically create a copyright and gain all of its protections once you generate an original work which is fixed in any tangible medium of expression now known or later developed which can be reproduced. Such original works of authorship include literary works; musical works; dramatic works; pantomimes and choreographic works; pictorial, graphic and sculptural works; motion picture and other audiovisual works; sound recordings and architectural works.The bundle of rights provided to the copyright owner is generated at that moment of creation in a tangible form, which means you can touch it, see it, feel it, hear it and yes, even smell it, for those who can remember that bizarre flick, “Polyester,” which was shown in “odorama.” Hey folks, you can’t make this stuff up!
Your bundle of rights includes: reproduction of the copyrighted work; production of derivative works based on the copyrighted work; distribution of the copyrighted work by sale, transfer, rental, lease or loan; public performance of the copyrighted work and public display of the copyrighted work. These rights remain yours, as the owner, for a term of your life plus 70 years, unless it is a work made for hire, in which case, the term is 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter. However, you cannot gain protection for that great title or idea you thought up while sipping Mojitos in Vegas, which can raise many sobering problems after you have posted it to your blog or on one of the social networking sites for only your few thousands friends to see. All of this is spelled out in Section 102 of the Copyright Act of 1976 .
Your doodle, poem or photograph doesn’t need to have that cute little © symbol to earn these protections but it does help put the world on notice as to who owns the rights in the work. It is wise to register your new creation with the US Copyright Office but that too is not necessary to gain protections and it often takes months to actually receive the Certificate of Registration once you have applied. However, registration will prove to the courts, if the need arises, as to which party was the rightful registrant on a specific date but it alone will not prove ownership.
As a creative spirit whose works have been published globally, I know better than to post something, anything, on the web that I don’t want to place at risk. It doesn’t take expert hacker skills to rip a photo off the web so placing that cute little symbol on your site gives you no added safeguards. The best thing you can do technically is to imbed your photo or work of art with a digital watermark. Microsoft Word, Photoshop and Paint.Net come with this option built into the program and there are other downloads, such as Visual Watermark , available for free trial downloads online.It doesn’t make your photo look attractive with a big transparent mark across the page. However, it will prevent anyone from being able to use it for unlawful purposes without sufficient technical prowess to obliterate the watermark’s code.
So, word to the wise – don’t blog or post with blinders on and digitize yourself for the best protection available.