copyright question Dear Doc:

A magazine editor has told me that if a magazine releases an issue before its copyright date, the magazine will lose its rights. I can’t believe that this is the law. Please tell me who’s right.

Confused Author

Dear Confused:

You’re less confused than your editor! Under international copyright law, known as the Berne Convention (no, it’s not a meeting of arsonists) a “work” is protected by copyright automatically from the moment it is created. There are no complicated rules. Most countries, including the United States, are a part of this treaty, so copyright protection extends to most of the world in this way.

Each country is still allowed to create its own rules in addition to those of the treaty, so, for example, in the United States, even though you have an automatic copyright, you must register your work in the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress in order to enforce your rights in court, and there are other benefits of early registration as well. Registration is a simple process, and the fee is quite low. You may not, however, just send yourself a registered letter! (That is as legally effective as shaking a rattle to cure the flu.)

Under U.S. law, you may put a copyright notice on your work to show the world that you have rights. The law says that this notice is ©, the year of creation or publication, and some identifier of the copyright owner. You may also use the word “Copyright” or the abbreviation “Copr.” You may NOT use a ( C ) – that’s not part of the law. Under the laws of some countries, it also helps to use the phrase, “All Rights Reserved.”

Copyright extends to more than just written works, as well. You can protect music, video, computer code, works of visual art, and even performances. Each type of work has its own rules and registration forms, so be sure to check and with your IP counsel for the right information. Registering copyrights should be an automatic part of the business process for just about every business.

When it comes to simple and effective protection of intellectual property, you just can’t beat copyright. By now, the Doc knows that you have lots more questions. Just call one of the attorneys at LW&H. They do copyright, trademark, patent, trade secrets, and lots of other stuff to protect rights of creative endeavors.

The Doc

–Lawrence A. Husick, Esq.