Jarmal Richard

Copyright protection is not automatic in the US. You have to register for it.

Register with Uncle Sam

While having a casual chat about international intellectual property issues, as we lawyers do, I was informed by a trusted colleague that the US plays by a different set of rules when it comes to copyright protection.

I could have told him that!

He was amazed by the outcome of a recent case in the US Court of Appeals. In Brooks-Ngwenya v Thompson and others (October 2006) the court denied relief to a person who claimed to be the copyright owner of certain materials on the basis that they had not registered the copyright.

Copyright is protected by federal law in the US, which requires the owner of the copyright to have it registered with the Library of Congress to be able bring a claim for copyright infringement in US federal courts.

In the grand scheme of registering intellectual property, at $45 per application, copyright is clearly the most affordable type of intellectual property registration available to SMEs. It’s possible to register literary works, sound recordings, drawings, visual and performing art pieces.

The US is the only country that has a registration system for copyright. It comes as a surprise to many people because it is a signatory to the Berne Convention, which basically sets the global rules on copyright; and does not require registration of copyright to protect it.

Copyright, ideally, should be registered as close to its creation period as possible. Once it is registered, copyright lasts for the life of the owner and 70 years after death.

Creative talent, entrepreneurs and SMEs trading in the US should get Uncle Sam’s copyright stamp of approval.


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