Sunday, April 08, 2007

Copyright Clarification

This won't be a full-blown I.P. Tip of the Week, but just a clarification and a correction to something I posted earlier about the student lawsuit against In that post I mentioned that "I find it interesting that 'each of the students obtained a copyright registration for papers they submitted to Turnitin.' That absolutely should not be required since copyright is automatic on an originally created work."

The following excerpt is lifted from The University of North Carolina Greensboro, University Counsel website about Copyright and Distance Learning.

"There seems to be a common misconception that in order to obtain a copyright one must hire an expensive lawyer who will create complicated and mystical paperwork to be filed in some federal office at huge expense. Further, it is assumed, some special combination of symbology and verbiage must appear on every publication, or copyright will be forever lost. However, nothing could be farther from reality. The truth is that copyright is automatically conferred at the moment that the work becomes "fixed" in a "tangible medium."In addition, for works created on or after 1 March 1989 the familiar copyright symbol, "©", need not appear at all. However, registration is a prerequisite to filing a lawsuit for infringement, and registration must have been made prior to the date that the particular infringement in question occurred in order to collect damages (as opposed to injunctive relief) from the infringer. Registration is made by filing an application with the Register of Copyrights at the U.S. Copyright Office of the Library of Congress, paying a small filing fee and depositing copies with the Copyright Office. More information is available at the Copyright Office's website which may be accessed at" (my emphases added)

Therefore, it was wise for the students to officially register their copyrights since they are seeking monetary damages. Without that, they would only have been able to sue for injunctive relief, probably along the lines of a cease and desist order to remove their works from the Turnitin database.

This does seem like a bit of a dilemma for copyright holders where there is some potential economic value in their creation. Copyright protection is granted automatically when your original work becomes fixed in a tangible medium. However, each copyright holder needs to make a judgment regarding whether potential future infringement might have economic consequences. If infringement needs to be punished with a monetary award, then you'd better do an official filing before the infringement occurs.

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