Copyright Protection

Copyright protection, protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed.

Copyright Registration

While copyright protection is automatic once an original work is fixed in a tangible manner, there are many benefits to registering your work including the ability to sue someone for stealing your work, the ability to recover statutory damages and in some cases, attorney’s fees for having to enforce your rights.  Some people choose to register their work for copyright protection because they wish to create a public record of the work and may wish to receive a registration certificate.  Works which have been registered, may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney’s fees if a copyright infringement lawsuit is filed.  In addition, if registration occurs within five years of publication, it is considered prima facie evidence of the facts stated on the certificate.  This can be very helpful if a copyright infringement lawsuit is necessary.  While some folks often use the term, “poor man’s copyright,” which is when you send a copy of your own work to yourself in the sealed envelope using the mail.  However, there is no provision in the copyright law regarding any such type of protection, and it is not a substitute for registration.

A copyright is different from a Patent and a Trademark

Copyright protects original works of art, while a patent protects inventions or discoveries. Ideas and discoveries are not protected by the copyright law, although the expression of them, such as in a novel or white paper, can be protected.  A trademark protects branding elements such as words, phrases, symbols, or designs which are used to identify and distinguish the source of a good or service.

Errors in a Copyright Registration

A copyright certificate is required to bring an infringement lawsuit.  However, errors in a copyright registration or in the registration process will not automatically end your copyright case.  On February 24th, the High Court in the United States ruled that lack of either factual or legal knowledge can be an excuse for errors in a copyright registration.

In the case, Unicolors, a fabric design company, sued H&M (a large retailer) for infringing its copyright bases on similarities in fabric designs.  The jury found in Unicolors’ favor based on the similarities in the designs and it was awarded over $750,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees. Afterwards, H&M claimed the decision should be thrown out because there were errors in the copyright certificate.  H&M argued that Unicolors’ registration certificate was inaccurate because Unicolors had registered 31 separate works in a single application, violating a rule in the copyright application process which required a single application for each “unit of publication.”  H&M claimed that the error in the copyright certificate should result in lawsuit being thrown-out.

The Supreme Court disagreed.  While Unicolors made “a mistake of labeling,” the mistake was a mistake of law.  Unicolors claimed that it was not aware that the multiple designs it registered in a single application did not satisfy the “single unit of publication” rule.  As a result, the court said that if Unicolors did not know about this legal requirement, then its application was not fraudulent.

However, the Court noted that this is not a free pass for copyright holders to claim that they were not aware of legal requirements. The court said that there are a number of factors which should be considered before making this determination, including the significance of the legal error, the complexity of the relevant rule, the applicant’s experience with copyright law, and other such matters.  In some cases, an evaluation of these factors may lead a court to find that an applicant was actually aware of, or willfully blind to, legally inaccurate information.

Mistakes in a copyright application can still be detrimental when seeking to enforce your rights. This can result in year of litigation and thousands of dollars.  In addition, if you find out a registration has an error, you should seek out and correct those mistakes.

Contact us if you would like help with a copyright registration, to help avoid errors in copyright registration or with help enforcing your copyrights.