How to Copyright

Copyright is a form of intellectual property protection provided to the authors of “original works of authorship,” for things such as literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works. Copyright law generally gives the owner of copyright the exclusive right to authorize others to reproduce the work, make derivative works, distribute or sell copies, perform and/or display the work in public.

Authors and artists have strong protection under copyright law, but certain steps must be taken to maximize value from these protections.

Has it been published yet?

Copyright protection is available for all unpublished works, regardless of the nationality or domicile of the author. Published works may also be available for copyright in the U.S. under several conditions.  Generally if it was first published in the U.S. or in certain treaty countries it is eligible for copyright. Check with counsel if you are uncertain.

How to get a copyright

Before applying for a copyright it is a good idea to verify who actually owns the copyright. Copyright protection begins as soon as the work is created in fixed form. The copyright in the work of authorship immediately becomes the property of the author who created the work. Only the author or those deriving their rights through the author can rightfully claim copyright. In the case of works made for hire, the employer and not the employee is considered to be the author. If there is some doubt, it is advisable to seek the help of counsel to determine ownership.

An application for copyright registration contains three essential elements: a completed application form, a non-refundable filing fee, and a non-returnable deposit—that is, a copy or copies of the work being registered and “deposited” with the Copyright Office.

If you decide to apply for a copyright yourself, go to and follow the instructions on that site.  The process is not complicated and doing it yourself may save you money.   Otherwise, please contact our copyright attorney in San Francisco, Walnut Creek or Silicon Valley for assistance.

A Copyright Notice

The use of a copyright notice is no longer required under U. S. law, although it is often beneficial.  Use of the notice may be important because it informs the public that the work is protected by copyright, identifies the copyright owner, and shows the year of first publication. Furthermore, in the event that a work is infringed, if a proper notice of copyright appears on the published copy or copies to which a defendant in a copyright infringement suit had access, then the author may have a stronger case.

The notice for visually perceptible copies should contain the following three elements:

  • The symbol © (the letter C in a circle), or the word “Copyright,”; and
  • The year of first publication of the work; and
  • The name (or other recognizable mark) of the owner of copyright.

International Copyright Protection

There is no such thing as an “international copyright” that will automatically protect an author’s writings throughout the entire world. Protection against unauthorized use in a particular country depends, basically, on the national laws of that country. However, most countries do offer protection to foreign works under certain conditions, and these conditions have been greatly simplified by international copyright treaties and conventions.  Contact counsel if you have questions in this area of law.


The advice included in this article is for education purposes only; consult a patent professional for specific information about your invention.

Side Resource

Copyright Protects Artists and Authors by Giving Them Exclusive Control Over Their Creative Works.


The advice included in this article is for education purposes only; please contact our copyright attorney for specific information about your invention.


About the Author


Mr. Pete Tormey heads the Intellectual Property Group for Antero & Tormey LLP in San Francisco and Walnut Creek.  He has a J.D., an MBA in marketing and a BS in electronic engineering.  He is licensed to practice in California and before the US Patent and Trademark Office.  He can be reached at  or at (925) 352-9842.

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