What does a copyright protect?

If you are a writer, composer, artist, software developer, photographer or other creative person living in Tennessee, you should obtain copyright protection for your creations so that other people cannot use them without your permission or make false claims that they created them rather than you. Obtaining protection from the U.S. Copyright Office protects your intellectual property.

You can only copyright your finished creative works, not your ideas for them. For example, if you conceive the next top-selling computer game, you cannot have copyright protection until you finish programming it and have it in final form, ready to market and sell.

Copyright vs. copyright registration

Technically, your copyright protection starts the moment your creation is in a physical form. You do not have to do anything other than put the copyright symbol on it, thereby warning all buyers and/or users that they cannot copy or reproduce it without your permission. Nor, in the case of a book, article, or even a product description or blog post on your website, can they plagiarize the words.

For your copyright to have teeth, however, you must register it with the United States Copyright Office. Without a copyright registration number and date, you have little proof that the creation is actually yours, let alone when you created it.

Registering your copyright gives you the following legal protections:

  • You have a public record of your creation and the date on which you created it.
  • You have a certificate of registration that includes a unique registration number.
  • You have prima facie evidence that you created your work and when you did so.
  • If necessary, you can sue someone for copyright infringement and can collect statutory damages and attorneys’ fees.

While it is better to register your copyright as soon as you have your creation in final physical form, you have five years in which to do so. This information is provided for educational purposes and should not be interpreted as legal advice.