The Copyright Law is important to business individuals from two perspectives: as an owner and as a potential user of registered material. A copyright is used to protect the rights of the author of published or unpublished literature, music and lyrics, drama, choreography, graphics and other art forms, motion pictures, and sound recording.

A revision in the copyright law no longer requires copyright owners to mark their works in a special way to qualify for protection. However, many copyright owners continue to indicate their ownership in the work by using a (©) to indicate copyright protection.

The copyright registration process originates with an application form obtained from the U.S. Copyright Office. Form TX is the most commonly used application for most business uses and covers non-dramatic literary works such as fiction, nonfiction, textbooks, reference works, directories, catalogues, advertising copy, and computer programs.

Other Common Forms and Their Uses

  • Form PA: Material to be performed, including music (with accompanying lyrics), choreography, motion pictures, audio-visuals.
  • Form VA: Visual arts. "Pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works," graphic arts, photographs, prints and art reproductions, maps, globes, charts, technical drawings, diagrams, and models.
  • Form SR: Sound recordings.

Once the application is completed, it should be sent with the $20.00 application fee, payable to the Register of Copyrights, Copyright Office, Library of Congress, Washington, DC 20559 After the copy right has been issued, the owner has three months to supply two copies of the registered work, one for registration and one for the Library of Congress, to the Copyright Office.

Confusion arises concerning what can and cannot be copyrighted. Phrases, slogans, ideas, and mottoes cannot be copyrighted. Neither can blank forms, methods, systems, concepts, and names of products. Occasionally, a business owner will attempt to copyright a product or service name, only to be informed that such registration is covered under trademark law rather than copyright law.

Fair Use

The general rule of thumb is that up to 250 words of text from a book or long article may be used without securing permission for such use. Be very careful of poetry, songs, famous individuals, and endorsements, however. Recent case law has made some works (like directories) more open to fair use, and others (like a star's singing style) less open.

For more information, contact: the Copyright Office, Public Information Office, (202) 707 3000 To obtain specific copyright forms, call the Forms Hotline (202) 707-9100. Also, the Software Publishers Association Piracy Hotline (800) 388-7478.