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By J.D. Houvener
Patent Attorney and Founder

Did you know a large part of copyright infringement happens without people even knowing they did it?

Understanding the above sentence will require a fair amount of background on what copyright law is, so I’ll go over the fundamentals. 

An author is given copyright (under common law) immediately upon the creation of a work of original art. Be it a painting, a song, or sculpture as soon as it is recorded, the author has privileges and may exclude anyone else they wish from making copies and/or the distribution of the work. 

Generally, copyrights protect “original works, including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, songs, films, software, and architecture. ” But, it does not cover or protect ”  facts, ideas, systems or methods of operation”. 

This form of intellectual property law is designed to protect the creator. Consumers like you could run the risk of copyright infringement without even knowing it. For this reason, it is good to know how to respect the rules of use of the work with the seal ©. 

It is important to keep in mind that even if a work does not declare the copyright symbol, it can still be protected by law. Bold Patents describes the idea behind copyright when writing, “the author or creator has the right to work and can decide if and how others use their creation.” This is particularly illegal if you use a copyrighted work of someone for commercial purposes. Bold Patents also list some examples of copyright infringement that may seem trivial to consumers but are in fact illegal.

  • Download movies and music without payment appropriate for use
  • Recording of films at the theatre
  • Use other photographs for a blog without permission
  • Copy of the software without giving the appropriate credit
  • Create videos with unlicensed music clips
  • Copy books, blogs or podcasts without permission

A key takeaway is that whenever you record an original work of art, you have automatic common-law copyright protection. 

It is important to know the differences between patents, copyrights, trademarks and trade secrets. For this information you can follow the link below:

Your question may fall in line with obtaining a patent or trademark. Book a free consultation today to find out!

Becoming Aware of Copyright Infringement

Sometimes, if you’re writing an article for school or work, or creating a slide deck presentation, you have to use the work of someone who is already protected by copyright. So, how do you use it without committing copyright infringement? All you have to do is ask!

This way, you can actually cite to them with pride, and they will receive not only the moral/ego boost from your appreciating their work, but they may also get additional attention/traffic/financial incentives for doing so. Not to mention, you will be respected by your colleagues more than ever for being upfront about it.

What’s the worst they can say, no? And even if they refuse, there are many pieces of the public domain that can help you complete your project without having to commit copyright infringement.

Some common ways in which people violate copyright laws and infringe on artists are:

  • When a movie is played at an event that charges a cover charge for coming
  • When a song is played at a place of business 
  • When you use an image from the internet in a marketing piece or blog

See, how things like this can crop up all the time? 

Again, the typical best answer to these is that you should seek permission from the owner of the IP. Very rarely will they say no, and sometimes its a no but we can sell a license to you or allow you to do so under certain restrictions. And that may be a win for everyone involved.

Helpful Links:

What is NOT Copyright Protected?

Material that is not protected by copyright is considered to be in the public domain. That’s right, shared by all!

You can not commit copyright infringement on public domain works. These works include objects whose copyright has expired or is not intellectual property, such as government publications, titles,  jokes, and ideas. 

Some creators (writers, musicians, artists, and others) have deliberately placed their work in the public domain, without ever obtaining copyright, by providing a Creative Commons affiliation. 

Creative Commons allows people who create material to lose some or all of their copyrights and to place their work partially or totally in the public domain.

How to Avoid Copyright Infringement

First, if you plan to use someone else’s material, you can check the public domain to see if something is suitable for its use, instead of trying to use the copyright of another person. 

However, if you can not find something that is suitable (and cannot create something for yourself), the best thing (and your only legal course of action) is to find what is copyright protected and contact the copyright owner.

Sometimes, knowing what can be copyrighted is a barrier. A GREAT resource is the US Library of Congress’ copyright office’s website at There is a great FAQ page [] with some excellent answers to the following questions:

  • What is copyright?
    • Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.

  • What does copyright protect?
    • Copyright, a form of intellectual property law, protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed. See Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section “What Works Are Protected.”

  • How is a copyright different from a patent or a trademark?
    • Copyright protects original works of authorship, while a patent protects inventions or discoveries. Ideas and discoveries are not protected by the copyright law, although the way in which they are expressed may be. A trademark protects words, phrases, symbols, or designs identifying the source of the goods or services of one party and distinguishing them from those of others.

Recommended: How to Patent a Design in 10 Easy Steps!

  • When is my work protected?
    • Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.

  • Do I have to register with your office to be protected?
    • No. In general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work. See Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section “Copyright Registration.”

  • Why should I register my work if copyright protection is automatic?
    • Registration is recommended for a number of reasons. Many choose to register their works because they wish to have the facts of their copyright on the public record and have a certificate of registration. Registered works may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney’s fees in successful litigation. Finally, if registration occurs within five years of publication, it is considered prima facie evidence in a court of law. See Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section “Copyright Registration” and Circular 38b, Highlights of Copyright Amendments Contained in the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA), on non-U.S. works.

Recommended: How to Write a Patent Application & Submit it!

  • I’ve heard about a “poor man’s copyright.” What is it?
    • The practice of sending a copy of your own work to yourself is sometimes called a “poor man’s copyright.” There is no provision in the copyright law regarding any such type of protection, and it is not a substitute for registration.

  • Is my copyright good in other countries?
    • The United States has copyright relations with most countries throughout the world, and as a result of these agreements, we honor each other’s citizens’ copyrights. However, the United States does not have such copyright relationships with every country. For a listing of countries and the nature of their copyright relations with the United States, see Circular 38a, International Copyright Relations of the United States.

There is a doctrine called “Fair Use”. This judicial exception to the rule allows use/copy/distribution of copyrighted material without the permission of the owner. The categories for fair use are criticisms, opinions, parody, non-profits, school/educational, among a few others. The major point that knocks a use out of being fair use, is if the use is for commercial purposes. 

There are some great resources to learn more about Fair Use and copyright, I’ve listed some below here for some different scenarios:

So, if you can’t find a substitute free/creative commons work of art that will work, and you don’t think you qualify under the fair use exception, then you are faced with contacting the copyright holder directly.

When you get in touch with the copyright holder, make sure you tell them what you want to use for your blog, podcast, or report, and ask if you can use them. You may have to pay either attribution or royalties in your piece, or both. The creator can also place many limitations on when and how he can use his material. Follow all the instructions given to you and you will be free and clear to use their work as you wish.

Once you have permission to use a copyrighted work, you must make sure that you stay within the agreed boundaries. If you deviate from the agreed terms, you can initiate a copyright infringement claim, which can be unpleasant, time-consuming, and expensive. 

The most important thing to remember about pursuing a copyright litigation claim is to REGISTER YOUR WORK (with the Library of Congress) before flying suit. By simply registering the artwork documenting your original creation, date, description, will act as prima facie evidence for the foundation of your claims of infringement. 

Here is the website where you may register your own works, or your legal representative can register it on your behalf:

You will follow the links to the eCO which is the electronic version, and largely the only way to register nowadays. 

You will follow the prompts carefully and be sure to identify all of the important information about your artwork. 


For information regarding patents, and trademarks, follow the links below!



Do you have additional questions? Book a free consultation today!

About the Author
J.D. Houvener is a Registered USPTO Patent Attorney who has a strong interest in helping entrepreneurs and businesses thrive. J.D. leverages his technical background in engineering and experience in the aerospace industry to provide businesses with a unique perspective on their patent needs. He works with clients who are serious about investing in their intellectual assets and provides counsel on how to capitalize their patents in the market. If you have any questions regarding this article or patents in general, consider contacting J.D. at