You may be a painter, songwriter, author, photographer, director or even an architect. No matter what form of art you choose to express yourself, you take great pride in it.

What if someone came along and just took it right from under your nose? What? That would never happen to you, right? Unfortunately, it happens every single day. That is why copyright laws exist: To protect people just like you and your ownership rights. So, what is a copyright exactly? What does it do, and more importantly, how can it protect you?

An experienced attorney can advise you about the copyright laws and your particular rights. However, in general, a copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution. It is granted by law for original works of authorship, fixed in a tangible medium of expression. It covers both published and unpublished works.

A copyright is not the same as a patent or a trademark. The difference is that a trademark protects symbols, designs, words or even phrases, while a patent protects discoveries or ideas.

How can copyright protect you?

Believe it or not, you don’t even have to officially register your work in order for it to be considered your work. The work is considered yours as soon as you create that work of art and put it in a physical form that is noticeable, either openly or with the help of a machine or device.

The only time registration is required is if you are taking someone to court for trying to steal your work. However, you should consider registering your work, because it can offer peace of mind. It provides documented proof of ownership with a certificate of registration on the public record. This is also beneficial if you are involved in a lawsuit. It could potentially help you win legal damages and pay for your attorney’s fees.

What can it cover?

There are a wide variety of things that you can copyright. They include:

  • Songs
  • Books
  • Poems
  • Paintings
  • Computer software
  • Architecture
  • Movies
  • Live performances
  • Photos

As the owner of the copyright, you have the right to perform your work publicly, reproduce your work, display your work, prepare other works based on the original and distribute copies for sale or lease. You can also choose to sell the rights to someone else.

What should I do if my work is infringed?

Copyright infringement happens anytime someone tries to sell or use your work without your permission. For example, this can include your using songs, distributing copies or selling the songs.

The last thing you should have to worry about is someone trying to steal all of your hard work. But unfortunately, it happens often. If you’ve created something and you see someone else using it, contact an attorney. He or she can help with any questions or legal issues you may face.