What is Copyright?
Copyright is a form of protection for ‘original works of authorship’ that have a ‘tangible form of expression’ (i.e. they’ve been written down/drawn etc and can be communicated to others). So the moment you pick up pencil, stylus or keyboard and start doodling, or writing or take a photograph etc you’re producing work that once completed you can have copyright over.
This means you have the right to control what people can and cannot do with your work ie what rights they have to copy it (or not). Establishing ownership says to the world that you have exclusive rights like; the right to publish it, display it, perform it publicly or to make new versions of it… and of course this comes back to allowing the original creator to increase their ability to generate income from it: to be rewarded for all the time and effort that went into creating it in the first place. And rightly so.
Works that can be protected by copyright include: literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as graphics, sculptural work, poetry, novels, movies, songs even architecture. Once the original piece is finished, it automatically receives copyright protection. The copyright in a work of authorship immediately becomes the property of the author who created it at the moment it is put into a fixed form.
No one but the author can claim copyright to the work, unless the author specifically relinquishes those rights in writing or if it is a ‘work made for hire’.
But what is “Work made for hire?”
‘Work made for hire’ means, the copyright of the work employees create as part of their terms of employment, is owned by their employers. But a freelancer or an independent contractor owns the copyright of what they produce for a client and ownership of rights must be negotiated. A freelancer or contractor could be a writer, illustrator, photographer etc
Agencies are not employees of clients (excluding agency of record relationships with clients). They are contractors too, so while the completed job contracted by a client for an agency to deliver upon i.e. the TVC’s final edit, the printed brochure etc, agencies actually retain the copyright to all the work as well as reproduction rights and licencing rights. Smart for client and agency (and their relationships) to agree to ownership of copyright and negotiate this in advance to clarify exactly who owns what.
What can’t you copyright?
When Shannon’s Car Insurance decided to use the GoGo Mobile idea (actor and all) – did Shannon’s agency infringe on copyright? What do you think?
Here’s the answer courtesy of Arts Law Centre of Australia.
Titles, mottos, slogans, short phrases, taglines, positioning lines, names etc
Book titles, company names, group names, pen names, pseudonyms, product names, phrases, mottos, slogans, catchwords, advertising expressions, symbols and designs are not able to be copyrighted. But some of these may be protected by registering them as trademarks.
Works That Have Not Been Fixed in a Tangible Form
As mentioned right up front, until a work is written down in a form that can be seen and/or held, it is not copyrightable; for example: stories that have never been written down, ideas for concepts that have never been captured in writing/drawing are not protected by copyright.
Processes, Methods, Procedures and Ideas.
You can’t copyright an idea – this goes for advertising and communications concepts to. While the idea is the start of the creative process it’s only when the idea becomes a reality and you’ve materialise it as a design, a storyboard, a photograph, print or digital advertising or the finished tvc that you (the creator) has copyright. Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts (but written or recorded descriptions, explanations, or illustrations of such things are protected copyright); Copyright protects the form of expression of an idea, not the idea itself.
How long does copyright last?
As with a lot of things in life – the answer is ‘it depends’. They don’t last forever but they last at least a lifetime. Work for hire, or created anonymously, or under pseudonyms lasts 120 years from the date of creation or 95 years from the date of publication whichever is shorter. In Australia works created by an individual, are generally protected for the life of the author, plus 70 years.