Should I Get a Copyright or a Creative Commons License?

By: Donna Ray Berkelhammer. This was posted Monday, January 21st, 2013

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In short, yes. It often makes sense to both register your work with the US Copyright Office and get a Creative Commons License if you want an easy way to share your work.

Copyright is a bundle of exclusive rights that are automatically granted to a copyright owner (artist, musician, author, choreographer, programmer) once the work is “fixed in a tangible medium” — written, recorded in audio or visual form, stored in a computer memory system.  These rights are:

  1. Copy the work;

    Seal of the United States Copyright Office, in...

    (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  2. Distribute the work;
  3. Display the work;
  4. Modify or create derivative works of the work;
  5. Perform the work; and
  6. In the case of sound recordings, to perform the work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.

Copyright law protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, photographs, drawings, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. Recipes and web sites sometimes can be protected.  Copyright protects the expression of ideas, but does not stop other people from creating their own expression of the idea. It does not protect domain names, titles, slogans, most logos, band names, company names, facts, ideas, systems or methods of operation.

Unless you get a federal registration, you cannot sue for infringement and your ability to get damages will be greatly reduced.  Registered works are entitled to certain presumptions under the law, and are eligible for statutory damages and attorneys fees, which makes the case much simpler and more efficient to bring.  Otherwise you have the costly and burdensome job to prove the actual damages you suffered from the infringement.

Registration requires submitting a form, a copy of your work and a fee of as little as $35 for online registration to the U.S.  Copyright Office.

But what if you want other people to be able you use your work, or part of your work?  You don’t have to sell the entire work, but can grant someone a license to use your work under certain terms and conditions.  How could you let people find your work and tell them how they can use it?

That’s exactly what Creative Commons does.  It is a nonprofit organization that enables the sharing and use of copyrighted works with free legal tools.You can register your work with Creative Commons and select the conditions under which people can use your work or build on it.  If you are looking for content, if you find it at Creative Commons and abide by the license terms, you can rest easy that you have not committed copyright infringement.



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