Copyright protection extends to any original work of authorship that is fixed in any tangible medium of expression, including on paper, on film, in nonvolatile computer memory, on tape, or other media. Works of authorship include literary works; musical works; dramatic works; pantomimes and choreographic works; pictoral, graphic, and sculptural works; motion pictures and other audiovisual works; sound recordings; and architectural works.
Copyright protection begins the moment the work of authorship is fixed. No formal registration is required for protection, but to enforce a copyright (e.g. sue somebody for copyright infringement) an application to register the copyright must be filed, and preferably granted, to establish court jurisdiction. Furthermore, prompt copyright registration can affect the amount of damages available in such a lawsuit.
An author is a person that has creative input into the copyrightable subject matter of a work. An exception arises in a situation that includes a work made for hire. A work made for hire is any copyrightable subject matter that is (1) created by an employee within the scope of his or her employment; or (2) one of a very specific list of enumerated types of work that is specially commissioned from an independent contractor when there is a contract in place prior to creation of the commissioned work that specifies it will be a work made for hire. The author of a work made for hire is NOT the employee or the independent contractor, but rather the employer or the hiring party of the independent contractor. The determination of copyright ownership is a fact-specific, complex determination for which expert assistance is recommended.
Copyright protection generally lasts for a minimum of seventy years past the date of death of the author. However, several law changes over the past decades may affect the calculation of a copyright term, so an expert should be consulted if the term of a copyright needs to be determined.
Whether you need to register a copyright, enforce a copyright, or if you have been sued for copyright infringement, feel free to contact an attorney at RKM to help you understand your rights and options.