If you are the owner of an original work of authorship, then you may be entitled to have the work copyright protected. Having an original work copyright protected provides protection from others claiming ownership and/or receiving financial gain from the work without your authorization. In the U.S., all original works registered for copyright protection are subject to the rules governed by the Copyright Act of 1976.
Original works that may be copyright protected fall under a wide range of categories. Generally, copyright protectable works include motion pictures, dramatic works, audiovisual works, literary works, pictorial works, musical works, choreographic works, sculptural works, sound recordings, graphic works, dramatic works, architectural works and pantomimes. Once a work has been copyright protected, the owner of the copyright may grant permission to others to distribute, copy, display, or create derivative works based on the original compilation.
Technically, a work is copyright protected automatically at the time of its creation. However, the work must be in tangible fixed form. The authors of works created in partnership are considered joined as co-owners of the copyright. Otherwise, only the author of the original work, or those entitled to rights to the work from the author directly (i.e., inheritance of rights upon the death of the author), may claim copyright. In addition, work created through a "work-for-hire" arrangement entitles the employer to the copyright, unless ownership is expressed differently in a written agreement signed by both parties.
It is no longer required that the work be published in order to be copyright protected in the U.S. It is also no longer required that a copyright notice appear upon publication of the work. However, copyright protected works created on or before March 1, 1989 must include the copyright notice, including the name of the copyright owner and the year of first publication. If it does not, the owner may risk losing copyright protection of the work.
The length of time that a work is considered copyright protected extends to 70 years after the author’s death. In the event of co-ownership, the work is copyright protected for 70 years after the death of the last surviving author. However, older work that has not been copyright protected under the terms of the Copyright Act of 1909 are considered to be part of the public domain.
Application to obtain copyright protection in the U.S. is made to the Library of Congress Copyright Office in Washington, DC. To register intellectual property to be copyright protected, the owner must satisfy three conditions for each work: Submit a completed copyright application, include a non-refundable filing fee, and include a nonrefundable registration deposit. However, it is essential that all three requirements be made and received together. Also, additional requirements may be necessary according to the specific work being copyright protected, when it was created, and whether the work is part of a collection. More information may be obtained by writing or calling the Library of Congress Copyright Office.