Minneapolis Intellectual Property Attorneys: Can I Copyright My Work?

Copyright video

Copyrights give protection to those that express ideas in an original way. There are other ways to acquire a right to an original expression of ideas, such as purchasing a copyright, licensing the copyright, or otherwise transferring the copyright (for example, by assignment).

Why Copyright Protection is Important

This protection is important not only to the owner of the copyright, but to the entire community and society as a whole. Providing this protection gives creators an incentive to create. Without such protection, creators would fear that their works would be stolen and reproduced and they therefore would receive little compensation for their efforts. Creators may keep their works to themselves, or not create at all, without the benefits of copyright protection.

Because the creation and, more importantly, the expression of new ideas is important to all societies, legislators protect the creators to encourage them to express their ideas.

Ways to Obtain a Copyright

  • A person may own a copyright through several means. A person who authors an original work obtains a copyright in that work.
  • A person who creates a derivative work of a copyrighted work owns the copyright to the derivative work.
  • A person whose employee creates an original work owns the copyright to the employee’s original work, unless there is an agreement otherwise.
  • A person may purchase an interest, ownership, or license in a copyrighted work from the owner, giving the purchase rights to the copyright.
  • A person may obtain a copyright if he or she contributed to the work jointly with another or others under certain circumstances.
  • A person may put together a collection of works and own a copyright in the created collective expression. Music albums by various artists may be an example. Books containing short stores by several authors may be an example. The creator of the collection owns a copyright in that collective expression. The creators of the individual works have a different copyright – the copyright to the individual works.
  • A person may compile works together and own a copyright in the created compilation. This is different from collective works. A compilation uses existing works but puts them together in a way that creates an original work.
  • An employer might obtain a copyright in his or her employee’s work. If the work was created within the course or scope of the employee’s employment by the employer, the copyright belongs to the employer unless there is a written document, signed by the employer, giving the copyright to the employee. Even if the work is not created by an employee, an employer may still have a copyright in the work of another if the employer specifically commissioned the work of the other for use as: (a) a contribution to a collective work, (b) part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, (c) a translation, (d) a supplementary work, (e) a compilation, (f) an instructional text, (g) a test or answer material for a test, (h) an atlas.
  • A plaintiff may prove ownership of a derivative work by authorship. A derivative work is a work based on an existing work or existing works. In order to have a copyright in derivative work, a person must change, adapt, or transform an existing work to create an original work. A person who obtains a copyright in a derivative work may enforce the exclusive rights to the derivative work, but not to the existing work or works upon which the derivative work is based.
  • A person may obtain ownership rights in a copyright by transfer. The owner may transfer all or part of his or her exclusive rights to another. The transfer must be in writing and signed by the transferring owner or his or her agent. An owner of a copyright may transfer to another person one or more rights in a copyrights work. One such right might be the right to make copies of the work.

Leave a Public Comment

  • Aaron Hall, Minnesota Lawyer
    May 14, 2011, 3:27 pm


    Great point. You are correct. I will modify the post to incorporate your clarification.


  • Bob
    May 14, 2011, 7:57 am

    I think that first sentence might be a bit misleading. Copyrights don’t give protection to those that express original ideas; copyrights give protection to those that express ideas in an original way.

    It’s the expression that’s the touchstone of copyright, not the idea.