Chris Stewart is a partner with the law firm of Burdett Morgan Williamson & Boykin, LLP. Chris practices trademark law, copyright law, trade secrets law, and computer & internet law. He handles intellectual property litigation and transactions. Chris has handled hundreds of trademark and copyright registrations. Chris was formerly the sole shareholder in the Law Office of Chris Stewart, P.C. His complete BIO can be found by clicking here.
Trademark | Copyright | Trade Secrets | Intellectual Property | Computer and Internet Law | Publishing | Rights of Publicity and Privacy
Our law firm is dedicated to helping clients navigate copyright law. The purpose of copyright law is to protect original works of authorship. We assist our clients to protect creativity. We enjoy working with creative people and companies!
Many types of works can be copyrighted. Some examples of copyrightable works include:
Magazine, including entire issue or an article
The author or owner of a copyright holds five different rights. These are often referred to as the “bundle of rights.” The author or copyright holder (owner) of a copyright has the exclusive right to:
A derivative work is a work that is derived from one or more pre-existing works. An example of a derivative work would be a “new edition” of an existing book. Other examples would be a movie based on a book, or a drawing made from a photo.
Our copyright law attorneys understand the copyright registration process. Although copyright registration is not a condition for obtaining a copyright for works created after January 1, 1978, there are multiple benefits to federal copyright protection. Copyright registration is the public record of copyright ownership, and provides evidence of the validity of the copyright. Copyright registration also allows copyright owners to work with Customs officials to prevent the importation of pirated copies.
Most significantly, however, copyright registration is required to bring an action for copyright infringement in the United States. When someone comes into our office to tell us about copying of their copyrighted work, one of our first questions will be, “Do you have a copyright registration yet?” If they don’t have a registration, we get the process going.
A simple phone call to the infringer may get the conduct stopped. Other times, a letter from an attorney may get the job done. Litigation or a copyright infringement lawsuit may be required. Copyright infringement lawsuits must be filed in United States federal court. We have negotiated many copyright infringement agreements that resulted in payment to the copyright owner, and have successfully sued copyright infringers, recovering damages and attorneys’ fees for our clients. Copyright infringement includes the literal copying of copyrighted work as well as infringing a copyright owner’s “bundle of rights.” We protect the “bundle of rights.”
Copyright ownership issues can be tricky. Sometimes a third-party can own the “bundle of rights” even though the third-party was not the author or creator of the work. For example, an employer generally owns the copyrighted works created by their employees working within the course and scope of their employment for the employer.
Sometimes an independent contractor (non-employee), vendor or freelancer may be retained to do a task resulting in the creation of a copyrighted work. A typical example would be a non-employee computer programmer who helps the company by writing software for the company, or the non-employee developer who builds the company website. Who owns the copyright in the content created by these non-employees? Sometimes the independent contractor, vendor or freelancer can own the rights to the copyrighted work even if the hiring party wrote the check for the work!
The most common copyright issues we see in our office involve the same or similar copyright ownership scenario. These copyright ownership issues can be resolved with a work for hire agreement. A work for hire agreement is a written agreement dealing with the potential ownership problems that can arise from the retaining of independent contractors, vendors or freelancers who will create copyrighted works. Work for hire agreements must be in writing. There is no such thing as an oral or “hand-shake” work for hire agreement. The agreement needs to be specific in stating that the task is a work made for hire. Our copyright law firm writes these agreements and understands the rules that apply to these work made for hire agreements.
Sometimes clients have questions about when they can use someone else’s copyrighted work. You may be permitted to make limited use of another author’s work without asking for permission. The use of copyrighted works for the purpose of criticism, commentary, news reporting, teaching and research are often considered to be “fair.” For example, the fair use doctrine allows students to make limited use of copyrighted materials in research projects without violating copyright law.
Copyright law recognizes four factors to determine whether a particular use is fair:
The fair use factors can be difficult to evaluate; the courts acknowledge that no factor is dispositive and that each factor can be weighed differently. We use our knowledge and experience to help clients assess their risk and the best course for proceeding.
Our office also assists clients who own copyrighted works and want to give third-parties permission to use the copyrighted work. We have experience tailoring copyright license agreements so that the copyright owner can ensure the copyrighted work is only used as the copyright owner desires. We can also assist copyright owners in the sale or other transfer of the copyrighted work.