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1. What is a copyright?

Copyright is a federally granted property right which gives the author (creator) of a work the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, perform, or display the work, or create derivatives (other works based on the work), or to permit others to do so.

2. What does copyright protect?

Copyright protects such forms of intellectual property as artwork, writing, music, film and other audiovisual works, choreography, and computer code. A copyright protects the expression of an idea. It does not protect the idea itself.

3. How is a copyright different from a trademark?

Copyright protects a work from being copied without permission, while a trademark protects against a competitor using the work in commerce to indicate the source of goods or services.

4. Can something be both copyrighted and trademarked?

Sometimes. For example, an image may be protected under copyright, and its use in commerce as a logo may also be protected as a trademark.

5. How do I obtain a copyright?

Copyright comes into existence the moment a work is fixed in tangible form—that is, as soon as it is drawn, written, recorded or filmed. Copyright is initially held by the creator of the work, unless it has been signed away by contract or operation of law.

6. How can I protect my copyright?

Protect your copyright by registering it promptly with the U.S. Copyright Office.

7. How do I copyright a character I have created?

There is no direct copyright protection for a “character” as such. Representations of characters—the images themselves or the written work in which they are portrayed—can be protected.

8. Does mailing my work to myself protect my copyright?

No. Although this myth has persisted for years, mailing your work to yourself, whether by registered mail or any other “authorized” or “certified” method, does not protect your copyright in any way. Registering your work with the U.S. Copyright Office protects your work.

9. Does simply putting a copyright notice on my work protect it from infringement?

No. But placing a copyright notice on a work that has already been registered can affect what damages can be recovered in a copyright infringement suit.

10. What is “infringement?”

Infringement is the use of a copyrighted work–copying, reproducing, distributing, or displaying, or making a new work based on the original–without the permission of the copyright owner.