Copyright Guide

Many business owners have become astute about the critical need to protect their intellectual property with patents and trademark registrations. However, copyrights tend to get overlooked.

Copyrights are a fundamental aspect of intellectual property protection. Relatively speaking, registrations are easy and inexpensive to obtain, yet they provide strong protections. Working with an intellectual property attorney may be the best way to ensure that your company is taking full advantage of the protections that are afforded by copyrights.

What Is a Copyright?

Basically, a copyright protects an original work by an author. A person who holds a copyright has the sole authority to distribute, display, modify, copy or perform the work. Most people know that a book can be copyrighted, but so can articles in online formats and in magazines. The same is true for photographs, paintings, sculptures, plays, movies, music videos, ballets, songs, architectural drawings, computer software source code and many other materials.

Several of the items that are created and used within the course of business may be protected by copyright. This can include flyers, promotional materials, blogs, product packaging, content on the company website, jingles used in advertising and more.

The owner of the copyright is the only individual or entity that has the right to use, modify and distribute the protected materials. Anyone else who wishes to use the material in whole or in part must seek and obtain permission to do so from the copyright holder. If they fail to do this, then they may be prosecuted for copyright infringement.

What is Protected By a Copyright

A copyright protects “original works of authorship”. Copyrightable works fall into the following categories:

  • Poetry
  • Novels
  • Movies
  • Songs
  • Computer Software
  • Architecture
  • Graphic design works
  • Sculptural works
  • Choreographical works

What is Not PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT?

Not everything is protected by copyright law. To be protected by copyright, a work must contain at least a minimum amount of authorship in the form of original expression. The following are categories of things generally not protected by a copyright:

  • Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devices.
  • Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; mere listings of ingredients or contents.
  • Works that are not fixed in a tangible form of expression, such as an improvised speech or performance that is not written down or otherwise recorded.
  • Works consisting entirely of information that is commonly available and contains no originality.
  • Works by the US government.

How Do You Get a Copyright?

As soon as a work is recorded in some tangible form, it enjoys immediate copyright protection in the U.S. The moment your website is ready to be published or your marketing materials are ready for distribution, they are protected.

Registration is not required, but it is recommended. Registration provides enhanced protection. It’s possible for authors to apply for copyright protection through the website of the U.S. Copyright Office. Fees of between $35 and $55 are due at the time of application. The office will request that a copy of the work to be registered be submitted for review and for them to keep on file.

Registrations generally are issued within a few weeks or months. On some occasions, the office will have additional questions about the work or about whether or not the work is suitable for copyright registration. An intellectual property attorney can handle this process for you.


Obtaining a copyright for your work in the United States involves several steps, but it’s not overly complicated. Here’s a breakdown of the process:

1. Ensure Your Work is Eligible for Copyright:

Copyright protection extends to original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. This includes creative content like books, music, paintings, movies, software, and much more. However, ideas, facts, and processes are not protected by copyright.

2. Create a Notice of Copyright:

While not mandatory for copyright protection in the US, affixing a copyright notice to your work is recommended. The notice should include the copyright symbol ©, the year of publication, and the copyright owner’s name.

3. Register Your Copyright (Optional):

Copyright registration is not mandatory for protection in the US, but it offers several advantages. It provides a public record of your copyright claim, makes it easier to sue for infringement, and is a prerequisite for certain legal remedies like statutory damages and attorney’s fees.

Here’s how to register your copyright:

  1. Visit the U.S. Copyright Office website: https://www.copyright.gov/
  2. Select the appropriate application form: There are different forms for different types of works.
  3. Complete the application form: Make sure to provide accurate and complete information.
  4. Pay the filing fee: The fee varies depending on the type of work and how you file (online or paper).
  5. Deposit copies of your work: The number of copies required varies depending on the type of work.

4. Maintain Records and Proof of Creation:

Keep copies of your work, drafts, and any other materials that document the creation process. This can be helpful evidence if you ever need to defend your copyright claim.

How Long Does a Copyright Last?

If your work is new and was published on or after January 1, 1978, then the work is protected by U.S. copyright law for the author’s lifetime plus 70 years. If the work was not authored by an individual, but by a corporation or other entity, then it is entitled to 120 years of protection from the date of creation or 95 years of protection from the date of publication. In this case, the earlier date would prevail.

Works that are older than these time limits are said to be in the “public domain.” As an example, Mark Twain’s novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was published in 1876. This means that it is subject to earlier U.S. copyright law. Anything published prior to January 1, 1923 is officially in the public domain. This means that if you want to record Tom Sawyer as an audiobook or adapt it as a play, you are free to do so.

Are There International Copyrights?

International copyrights do not exist at this time. It may be useful to know that the Universal Copyright Convention and the Berne Convention do help to honor copyrighted works on an international level, and that the U.S. is a member of both conventions.

Copyright Violation Penalties

Depending on the nature of the offense, penalties for copyright infringement can vary in severity.

  • Not including attorney and court fees, violators can be fined of up to $150,000 in the U.S. and $1 million in Canada.
  • Any items that violate the copyright can be impounded.
  • The violator can receive jail time.

To avoid the consequences of copyright infringement, it’s important to know how copyright laws work. This will help you understand how to protect your own rights and avoid infringing on those of others.

If you have more questions about copyrights or about how to obtain a copyright registration on one of your original works, then contact Jeff Williams, an experienced intellectual property attorney.

Navigating the Maze of Copyrights: From Understanding to Respecting Creators’ Rights

In the vast digital landscape, where information transcends borders at breakneck speed, comprehending copyright is no longer a luxury, but a necessity. Whether you’re a budding artist yearning to share your creations or a curious consumer navigating the online world, grasping the nuances of copyright infringement empowers you to make informed choices. So, let’s embark on a journey to demystify this legal concept and explore its implications:

Demystifying Copyright Infringement:

Imagine copyright as an invisible shield protecting the creative expression of authors, musicians, filmmakers, and countless others. This shield grants them exclusive rights, akin to invisible tools, to:

  • Replicate their work: Imagine the author painstakingly crafting a novel. Copyright allows them to control who can publish copies.
  • Distribute their work: Musicians pour their heart and soul into composing a song. Copyright empowers them to decide how and where their music is sold.
  • Publicly display their work: Visual artists invest time and talent into creating a painting. Copyright grants them control over where and how it’s showcased.
  • Publicly perform their work: Choreographers meticulously design dance routines. Copyright allows them to decide who can perform their work publicly.
  • Create derivative works: Imagine adapting a book into a movie. Copyright safeguards the original author’s rights even in this new form.

Infringement occurs when someone utilizes any of these “tools” without the creator’s consent. It’s akin to borrowing someone’s tools without asking, potentially hindering their ability to create.

Beyond Legality: Respecting the Creative Spark:

Copyright infringement transcends mere legal implications. It delves into the realm of respecting the efforts, talents, and livelihoods of creators. Every song, poem, painting, or software represents countless hours of dedication, often fueled by passion and perseverance. Infringing upon these rights not only deprives creators of their deserved compensation but also devalues the very essence of their creative spark.

The Tangible Consequences of Disregarding the Rules:

While navigating the digital world, it’s easy to overlook the potential repercussions of copyright infringement. However, the consequences can be far-reaching, ranging from:

  • Fines: Copyright holders can sue infringers for financial damages.
  • Take-downs: Infringing content might be removed from platforms like YouTube or social media.
  • Legal repercussions: In severe cases, copyright infringement can even lead to jail time.

Charting a Course of Respectful Creation:

Fortunately, navigating the maze of copyright doesn’t have to be daunting. Here are some guiding principles:

  • Seek Permission: Whenever possible, obtain explicit consent from the copyright holder before using their work.
  • Embrace Fair Use: This legal doctrine allows limited use of copyrighted material for specific purposes like criticism, commentary, or education. However, fair use has limitations, so tread carefully.
  • Leverage Royalty-Free Content: Numerous platforms offer content creators a treasure trove of royalty-free resources that you can freely utilize.
  • Public Domain Works: Explore works whose copyright has expired or was never held, offering broader usage freedom.
  • Credit Where Credit is Due: When using someone else’s work with permission, always cite the source and acknowledge their contribution.

Remember: Copyright safeguards the very foundation of creative expression. By understanding and respecting these rights, we foster a vibrant creative environment where everyone flourishes. Let’s commit to responsible creation, honoring the efforts of those who bring imagination to life.

Additional Resources:

5 Trademark and Copyright False Facts

Intellectual Property Misconceptions

Unless you’re an intellectual property attorney you probably hold a number of misconceptions about patents, trademarks and copyrights. Don’t feel bad if that’s true for you. Most people don’t need to be experts on the subject. Unfortunately, these misconceptions can lead you to run afoul of the law or to believe that you have rights that don’t actually exist.

Here are five common intellectual property misconceptions that seem to come up frequently. If you need common sense, real world advice on the subject, contact a Texas patent attorney to learn more.

1. They didn’t invent that, so how can they have a trademark for it?

A trademark is essentially a source identifier. When you see “Coke” or “Coca-Cola” on a bottle or advertisement, you know exactly which company made the product. This dovetails nicely with the fact that the Coca-Cola company also created their product. However, it’s sometimes possible for someone to register a trademark for something that they didn’t technically “create.”

A notable instance of this occurred when the BBC registered a trademark for blue police boxes. The network had used a blue police box as a central component of their Dr. Who television series for decades. Even though the actual police call boxes were created by law enforcement agencies, a court ruled that people so closely associated modern images of the devices with the show that the BBC was entitled to hold the trademark.

2. You have to enforce your copyright every time you suspect infringement.

This is certainly true for trademarks, which the registration holder must defend vigorously. Copyright holders don’t necessarily have to be so aggressive. That’s why so many people are able to write fan fiction or design fan art based on popular characters without being contacted by attorneys. The copyright holder may not feel that their rights are being infringed. Still, they can choose to enact legal remedies if they choose.

3. Big corporations are trademark bullies.

Large corporations have many resources, and one of their most valuable assets is their trademarks. They’ve worked hard to build a recognizable brand and it’s unfair, not to mention illegal, when others try to sell their products under that mark. The law enables trademark registrants to defend their rights, which is why it’s always best for smaller companies to create their own distinctive trademarks. It’s a much less expensive proposition in the long run, and it allows a startup to make a name for themselves.

4. If I’m not making money from it, it must be fair use.

Anyone who wants to freely distribute a video, text or other work that draws significantly on the creative work of others may not be protected under fair use. Whether or not money is made is not always an issue. For instance, it’s unlikely you could legally post a movie online even if you first bought the film on DVD. That movie is still protected by copyright, and consumers don’t have the right to distribute it. When it doubt, consult with an intellectual property attorney.

5. It isn’t necessary to register a copyright anymore.

Actually, registering a copyright is still an exceptionally good idea. With a registered copyright you have the right to sue people who unlawfully use your work and you can collect monetary damages. While you don’t have to register you will certainly have more legal rights if you do.

Contact the law office of Jeff Williams for a Free consultation or to learn more about patents, trademarks and copyrights. As an experienced patent attorney in Dallas and Houston Texas, Jeff is well qualified to offer guidance and advice about even the most complex intellectual property matters.

Do I need to copyright my website?

Everyone Has a Website

Whether you build a website for personal or business reasons, chances are good that you pour your heart and soul into it. After all, that website is a reflection of you, and it also may be the first contact that your customers have with your business.

After putting so much time and effort into building your website, it makes sense to protect it. This doesn’t occur to many website owners, with the result that they are unable to recover damages when someone else steals their content.

Copyright Content

All of the content that you add to your website is either originally created by you or was created by someone else, like a contractor or employee, who was working for you. This means that you now own that content, whether it’s pages that describe who you are and what you do, blog posts or something else entirely.

Whatever that content is, you own it, and this means that you have the right to prevent others from using it without your permission. When you do see that someone has used your website content without asking you first, a registered copyright gives you the ability to pursue legal remedies.

Automatic Copyright Laws

You may have heard that copyright protection in the U.S. is automatic. This is true. In fact, anything that you fix in tangible form, like a drawing or a recording, enjoys automatic copyright protection in America.

However, this automatic copyright doesn’t necessarily go far enough when it comes to protecting your website’s content. Plagiarism on the Internet is rampant. Plenty of bad actors are out there who will simply copy your content or photographs and paste them onto their own website.

What can you do if this happens?

In this situation, it is best to have a federally registered copyright for your website and all of its content, which includes text, photos and other images. A formal registration demonstrates the date of creation of the content, enabling you to prove beyond a doubt that you are the originator and/or owner of the content.

What Federal Copyright Registration Provides

When you register your copyright, you are formally demonstrating your authorship of the content. If you hired someone to create some or all of your website content for you, then it makes sense to enter into formal agreements with these individuals in which they legally assign their rights in the created material to you. This usually helps to prevent later disputes should they ever arise.

Additionally, when you have registered your copyright, you have the right to pursue a civil lawsuit against an infringer. When a website is under a federal copyright, then the website’s owner may have the ability to claim statutory damages in addition to attorney’s fees if a lawsuit becomes necessary.

Copyright Notice

Whether you pursue a federal copyright registration or not, it is always sensible to include a copyright notice on each page of your website. Usually, such notices appear at the bottom of the page, and they may be as simple as “Copyright 2020.” Other possible copyright notices include ” © 2020″ or “All rights reserved.”

Still other appropriate copyright notices for websites include the name of the company or the individual who owns the website. As an example, the notice may read: “Copyright 2020, the ABC Company.”

While adding copyright notices to your website is not a requirement even if you federally register your copyrights, it is wise to do so to inform any visitors with bad intentions that you are aware of your rights and will defend them.

Ask an Intellectual Property Attorney for Assistance

Are you creating your first website or are you already the owner of several websites and just recently became aware that someone has stolen some of your content? In either situation, it’s wise to contact the Williams IP Law Office in Texas.

Jeffrey Williams helps clients with determining whether or not to federally register a copyright for various content on their websites. Moreover, Jeff can provide assistance with drawing up the various formal agreements that may be needed to ensure that the rights to website content are properly assigned from the author to the website’s owner.

Copyrighting website content in the U.S. is neither particularly difficult nor expensive, but it can be instrumental when it comes to protecting your work from infringement. If you’re serious about ensuring that others cannot take advantage of your hard work, then contact Williams IP Law.

Common Copyright Violations You Probably Commit

Have you ever heard of people illegally downloading music or movies? Activity such as this is an example of a copyright violation.

However, copyrights do not only protect music and films. They can be used to protect photographs, books, software code, blog posts and many other original works.

Copyrights are extremely important to creators who want to protect their work. People who wish to use these works may be just as interested in copyrights. That’s because it is recommended that those who want to use the creations of others obtain permission to do so. In fact, it’s not only recommended but also required by law.

How can you protect your original works? How can you be certain that you aren’t violating someone else’s copyright? Read on to learn more.

The Basics of Copyrights

Copyrights are one form of intellectual property, or IP. Other forms of IP include patents, trademarks and trade secrets.

This form of IP is used to protect “works of authorship.” Any work that is created and fixed in tangible form is automatically copyrighted in the U.S. This is true whether or not the work is actually registered with the U.S. Copyright Office.

Copyright protection provides exclusive rights to the owner of the work. Accordingly, the owner is protected against other people adapting, distributing or reproducing their work. If the owner wants to be able to protect their rights in the court system, then they must register the work with the U.S. Copyright Office.

What Is Copyright Infringement?

When someone exercises rights that actually belong to the copyright’s owner, infringement has occurred. Infringement may be any form of distribution, including a performance or sales. It does not matter whether the infringing party seeks monetary gain from the use or not.

What does copyright infringement look like?

It could be any of these:

  • Distributing or selling t-shirts that feature an image that is copyrighted;
  • Using someone else’s photographs on your website;
  • Using your smart phone to record a film in the theater;
  • Illegally downloading some songs;
  • Downloading software that is under a license from an unauthorized website;
  • Re-broadcasting a television show; or
  • Publishing a video that features a copyrighted song.

When Is It Acceptable to Use Copyrighted Material?

Sometimes, it is legal and acceptable to use material that someone else owns. One example of this is via direct licensing.

Direct licensing typically involves contacting the copyright’s owner and asking them for permission to use their material. The owner can grant a license while still retaining ownership of the copyright. Moreover, the owner can set stipulations and restrictions, which may include payment for use of their protected material.

A legal doctrine known as fair use also can make it acceptable to use someone else’s copyrighted material. Fair use states that under certain conditions it may be possible to use copyrighted works without infringing someone else’s rights. Generally, the material must be used for educational, non-profit purposes. Perhaps the use only involves a small portion of the work or doesn’t harm the value of the copyright.

Fair use frequently shows up in academic settings, but it also may make an appearance in parodies or works of criticism or commentary. It is possible that the copyright’s owner will take exception to the use of their material, and the courts will use the guidelines of fair use to determine if actual infringement occurred.

Alternatively, a copyright owner may establish a Creative Commons license in association with the work. This means that it is possible for members of the public to make use of the copyrighted material, as long as they do so in cooperation with the Creative Commons license.

Sometimes, “works of authorship” become a part of the public domain. This means that the copyright has expired, the owner’s work was somehow not eligible for copyright protection or the owner has deliberately made the work available in the public domain. Thus, this material is publicly owned and can be used for virtually any purpose.

Claims for Copyright Infringement

Creators who are serious about protecting their work are encouraged to pursue copyright registrations. This gives them the ability to easily prove their ownership of the material and file legal claims to protect their rights.

In a claim of copyright infringement, the copyright owner needs to demonstrate the actions taken by the alleged infringer that violated the owner’s rights. Additionally, it is essential that the copyright owner be able to show that the alleged infringer’s actions went beyond the fair use doctrine. No proof that the owner suffered monetary damages is required.

Most copyright infringement cases are decided based on long-standing precedents and case law. They are heard in civil courts, and if the plaintiff prevails, they can stop the infringing actions and receive monetary compensation.

Have You Infringed Any Copyrights?

Some copyright infringements seem quite small and inconsequential, like using a photo that someone else took on your website. However, chances are good that this infringing use is a really big deal to the copyright owner.

Before illegally downloading a new song, take a moment to consider the rights of songwriter and the artist. If you are a creator and are concerned about how your work might be used without your permission, then it’s time to consider registering your works with the U.S. Copyright Office.

Contact Williams IP Law today to schedule an initial consultation.

4 most famous copyright cases

Like patents and trademarks, copyrights are a form of intellectual property protection. In fact, copyrights are used to protect works of authorship that are original and are fixed in a tangible form. This means that copyrights can be used to protect drawings, photographs, compositions, audio recordings, books, films, plays, computer programs, blog posts and additional creations.

In order to obtain and enforce a copyright, it is essential to have the copyright recorded with the U.S. Copyright Office. The author of the created work typically is the owner of the copyright, though it is possible to assign ownership to an individual or entity, such as if the work was created in the course of the creator’s employment.

Moreover, it is possible for a copyright owner to grant permission to others to use all or a portion of their original work. Such agreements may involve the payment of fees to the copyright owner to compensate them for their work.

Unfortunately, many people and organizations don’t understand the finer points of U.S. copyright law. This may lead them to inadvertently use something that does not belong to them. Examples of this may include quoting from someone else’s book without citing the source or using a portion of another’s song in a sound recording. When a person features a photograph on their website that was taken by someone else, this also may be copyright infringement if permission was not obtained.

While some cases of copyright infringement are accidental or unintentional, others are not so innocent. Occasionally, someone will deliberately use all or a portion of someone else’s work and pass it off as their own.

Whether the infringement is accidental or intentional, the responsibility for enforcing their rights falls to the copyright owner.

Some copyright disputes become so heated that they turn into litigation. Other cases manage to avoid a trial, but they still undergo an intense and very public battle to determine who unfairly borrowed from someone else’s work.

Here is a look at some of the most famous copyright cases.

David Bowie and Queen vs. Vanilla Ice

The music industry is rife with copyright disputes. Songs may be protected in two ways with copyrights. These protections include coverage for the composition and for the sound recording of the composition. If someone wants to legally use any part of a song that is protected by copyright, then it may be necessary to obtain two licenses from the copyright owner. A sync license may be granted for the composition while a master-use license is needed for the sound recording. Accordingly, it may be necessary to obtain the permission of the songwriter, the performer, the record label and the producer.

When Vanilla Ice released his song “Ice Ice Baby” in 1990, listeners couldn’t help but hear that the bass line was incredibly similar to that used in the 1981 collaboration between David Bowie and Queen entitled “Under Pressure.”

Lawyers working for Bowie and Queen threatened to sue Vanilla Ice for copyright infringement. Vanilla Ice responded by saying that the bass lines were different as his melody included an additional note.

However, the difference was considered inconsequential, and he was sued. The case was settled out of court. While the amount of the settlement was not made publicly available, experts speculate that paying Bowie and Queen for a license would have been far less expensive than paying the out of court settlement proved to be.

Similar examples are found throughout the industry. One of the earliest of these occurred in the 1960s when Chuck Berry’s representatives accused the Beach Boys of plagiarizing one of Berry’s songs. The allegations centered on the Beach Boys’ song “Surfin’ USA,” which Berry accused of being a copy of his 1958 release “Sweet Little Sixteen.”

This one didn’t come down to a lawsuit, but it certainly established a precedent for the need for artists to protect their work.

Star Wars vs. Battlestar Galactica

If you were a fan of science fiction living in the late 1970s, it was a great time to be alive. With the release of the first Star Wars film in 1977, sci-fi films and television series took the world by storm.

Following Star Wars’ success in 1978, the first episode of Battlestar Galactica aired on television. From a ratings perspective, it performed fairly well. It only lasted for one season that consisted of 24 episodes. It seemed that the series was destined to be quickly forgotten.

However, the short-lived television series did make an impression on executives at Twentieth Century-Fox, the studio responsible for Star Wars. Fox sued Universal Pictures because of Battlestar Galactica, claiming that the series was clear copyright infringement on Star Wars.

In all, Fox listed more than 30 similarities that they alleged were infringing. The case lasted much longer than the television series, dragging on for half a decade only to be settled out of court. This left the allegations largely unresolved.

Why did the two sides settle without going to trial? It likely is because Fox would have had a difficult time proving that Battlestar Galactica was truly infringing rather than just being a copycat. Lawyers representing Star Wars would have had to prove that the elements at the heart of the case were original to Fox, that all of those elements qualified for copyright protection and that the TV series copied those elements.

Simply put, Fox had an uphill battle ahead of them. Settling out of court probably made a lot of sense for both parties.

James Dyson vs. Hoover

Not every copyright case is about an artistic endeavor like a song or a film. Sometimes, these cases are more technology driven.

This was the case in the 2001 legal matter between inventor James Dyson and vacuum cleaner maker Hoover.

Dyson had gained fame as an inventor for a bag-less vacuum that relied on two cyclones, one to pick up small objects and one to pick up larger items.

In the case, Dyson alleged that Hoover had infringed his design with their Triple Vortex model. Hoover argued that the technology behind Dyson’s Dual Cyclone was already well known in the industry, but the court didn’t buy it.

Instead, the court decided that Hoover had willfully copied the Dyson technology. At the same time, the court preserved Hoover’s right to use the “VORTEX” trademark on its vacuums.

Clearly, copyright cases can be extremely complicated, and they can spill over into trademark and patent territory as well.

Cariou vs. Prince

Here’s an interesting case that arose in 2011. Appropriation artist Richard Prince made changes to more than 40 images culled from a photography book by Patrick Cariou. Prince claimed that he had created something new with the photos, which meant that his work fell under the fair use doctrine. Cariou called the work copyright infringement.

The court ultimately decided for Cariou. According to the judge, the changes that Prince made to the photographs were not significant enough to change their meaning.

Prince appealed the ruling, and eventually won, with the court finding that the appropriated art had a different nature and target audience than the original works.

Should You Register a Copyright for Your Work?

Obtaining a registered copyright is a much less arduous process than obtaining a patent or registering a trademark. Nonetheless, a registered copyright gives the owner some incredibly useful and powerful tools should their rights ever be infringed.

Litigation is risky, and the outcome is never guaranteed. Accordingly, when infringement is suspected, it is always best to explore various avenues of resolution that don’t necessarily involve going to trial.

If you would like to register your work for a copyright or are concerned that someone has infringed your intellectual property rights, contact Williams IP Law for advice. We offer free initial consultations to new clients.

Can Monkeys Sue for Copyright Infringement?

People and animals have always had special relationships. State and federal laws are designed to provide protection to animals and to ensure their humane treatment. One court recently found that these relationships do not necessarily give animals the right to sue people in civil court.

Naruto “the Monkey” vs. David Slater

An unusual case began in 2011 when David Slater, a wildlife photographer, traveled to Sulawesi, Indonesia. He was on assignment, but there was a moment when he left his camera unattended. Naruto, a crested macaque, was nearby and seemed unable to resist temptation. Working quickly, he snapped several shots, including a series of selfies that is now known as the “Monkey Selfies.”

Slater was delighted when he saw the monkey’s work. In partnership with Wildlife Personalities, Ltd., the monkey selfies were published in a book. Slater and Wildlife Personalities are identified as copyright owners in the publication. However, text throughout the work identifies Naruto as the photographer.

The Copyright Law

Under U.S. copyright law, a photographer owns all rights to the images he captures unless he assigns those rights. Slater and Wildlife Personalities were turning a profit on the book, which they openly acknowledged included the photographic work of Naruto.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, filed a lawsuit in 2015 on Naruto’s behalf. Dr. Antje Engelhardt additionally acted as a plaintiff in an attempt to preserve Naruto’s rights. Engelhardt had spent a decade studying crested macaques, including Naruto, in Sulawesi, giving him a close relationship with the monkey. The plaintiffs alleged in the complaint that Slater and Wildlife Personalities were infringing Naruto’s copyrights.

Defendants responded by arguing that the plaintiffs had no standing and that no claim had been stated. The district court agreed with this motion, finding that plaintiffs had not established statutory standing. PETA and Dr. Engelhardt appealed.

The Argument for the Monkey

The Ninth Circuit first needed to decide whether or not PETA had standing to bring the case on Naruto’s behalf. PETA argued that they were acting as Naruto’s “next friend,” a common law concept that is typically used when one individual wants to act on behalf of another individual who is a minor, disabled or otherwise unable to direct an attorney as to their wishes. Generally, the party that acts as a “next friend” must have a well-established, relatively close relationship with the party for whom they are acting. In this instance, the court found against PETA because they could not establish a “significant relationship” with Naruto. Further, the court decreed that U.S. law does not permit an animal to be represented by a “next friend.” Dr. Engelhardt, who arguably did have a “significant relationship” with Naruto, had pulled out of the appeal by this time, which meant that no plaintiffs in the case had actual standing.

The court went even further, arguing that Congress would have to authorize the extension of “next friend” rights so that a person could bring a lawsuit on an animal’s behalf. Nonetheless, the Ninth Circuit acknowledged a case or controversy as described in the Constitution under Article III. The court felt an obligation to weigh whether or not an “incompetent party,” such as Naruto, was receiving adequate protection.

In the decision on the Article III question, the court ruled that the complaint adequately substantiated Naruto’s authorship of the photographs and demonstrated economic harm to the monkey as a result of the infringement on his copyrights. Accordingly, Naruto had standing under Article III.

Ultimately, the Ninth Circuit decided against Naruto because the Copyright Act does not give animals authority to file copyright infringement lawsuits. This lack of standing put an end to the lawsuit, but it sets an interesting precedent at the intersection between humans, animals and the law.

If you need any intellectual property guidance for you or your animal (tongue in cheek) request a free consultation below.

Do I Need to Copyright My Website?

These days, it’s hard for any business to function without a website. Your website likely is the first contact that many of your customers will have with you, and this means that you have to work hard to keep your content up-to-date, valuable and meaningful.

Simply put, maintaining a website is hard work, but it’s definitely worth it. When you work that hard to build something, it’s only natural that you would want to protect it. This prevents other people from stealing your hard work and unfairly benefitting from the fruits of your labor.

One of the best ways to protect your website and its content is by obtaining a registered copyright on it. If you’re not certain what a copyright is and how it applies to websites, read on. Williams IP Law is covering the basics to help you protect your intellectual property rights.

What Is a Website?

According to the U.S. Copyright Office, a website is “a webpage or set of interconnected web pages, including a homepage, located on the same computer or server (i.e., fixed together on that computer or server), and prepared and maintained as a collection of information by a person, group, or organization.”

Accordingly, pretty nearly any website that you might create or have created for you will qualify for copyright protection under this broad definition. Even the simplest website that consists of only a single webpage with some basic information about your business qualifies, and if your website and business are successful, then this is the only incentive you need to consider obtaining a formal copyright.

Why Should You Copyright Your Website?

Whether you create and maintain a website yourself or you hire someone else to do it for you, a great deal of time, money and effort goes into it. The best websites contain plenty of original content like photographs, text on the various pages and blog posts.

All of that content is automatically protected under U.S. copyright law as soon as it is created. While formal registration of that content is not required, it is recommended as it provides you with more robust legal protections.

With a registration, your intellectual property rights are a matter of public information. You’ll even have a registration certificate to prove it. If you discover that someone is infringing your copyright, it can be helpful and even necessary to have a formally registered copyright before you can bring an infringement lawsuit.

Should you be forced to bring a lawsuit and you are able to prevail in court, that registration may entitle you to statutory damages and attorney’s fees. In short, registering a copyright for your website gives you additional and more robust legal remedies.

What Can You Not Copyright?

Copyright protection is applicable to a host of materials such as:

  • Songs
  • Photos
  • Paintings
  • Scripts
  • Movies
  • Poems
  • Books
  • Blog posts
  • Copy from webpages

As long as you are the author or creator of any of the content on your website, then it is possible to register for a copyright.

However, if you hire someone else to take photographs for your website, write content or produce blog posts, then they technically are the author and owner under copyright law. The same is true if you hire a web designer to build your website.

You can obtain ownership rights in all of this content and your overall website by arranging for an assignment that transfers ownership from the creator to you. Typically, it is necessary to have an attorney craft such an agreement.

Some web designers and other contributors to your website may have a standard assignment form that they use with all of their clients. It’s wise to have your own attorney review such an agreement before you sign, just to ensure that you are properly obtaining ownership.

How to Copyright Your Website

The copyright process is fairly quick and easy when you use the copyright.gov website. A minimal fee and paperwork are involved. If you are unfamiliar with the process or just want to ensure that things go more smoothly, then you may want to consult with an intellectual property attorney who can complete the registration process for you.

It’s also wise to work with an attorney because the copyright office occasionally will make rejections on submissions for registration. If this occurs, it is sensible to ask an attorney to help straighten out any issues to ensure registration.

If you want to ensure that your competitors are not allowed to steal your website content with impunity, then contact Williams IP Law. These experienced intellectual property practitioners will walk you through the process of registering a copyright on your website.