In the beginning, there is copyright …

An idea comes to the mind of a creator.

The idea takes form. Its form may be a painting on canvas, a pastel drawing on paper, a melody and lyrics recorded on tape, or perhaps a novel penned on parchment.

In the digital world, its form may be a digital painting, drawing, melody or poem … it may be a novel, illustration, web page, software program, or scripting element … all captured on a hard drive.

These are the creative results of an original idea or concept fixed to a tangible medium. Copyright begins here.

Per The Copyright Act of 1976 (effective in 1978), there are three fundamental criteria to establish copyright:

• Fixation to a tangible medium
• Originality
• Minimal creativity

Registering your original work with the Office of Copyright is not required for intellectual property to be protected by copyright.¹

Names, titles, slogans and short phrases are not protected by copyright law but may be protected under trademark, tradename or slogan mark laws.

¹While registering for copyright is not required, the legal registration with the Office of Copyright will benefit the copyright owner should an issue of infringement occur. Registering copyright is beneficial because you cannot sue for copyright infringement without registration.

Who is the copyright owner?

Copyright is established when an original work is created, composed or written and fixed to a tangible medium such as paper, canvas, recording, a hard drive, on film, etc.

The copyright is owned by the creator.²

²Copyright ownership may be transferred and/or sold; this is accomplished usually via contract. In addition, works for hire are owned by the hiring entity.

See “Definitions: Copyright Ownership” for clarification.

But does copyright protect me worldwide?

Copyright laws are international with limitations.

With the establishment of the Berne Convention and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), copyright treaties were written to define international elements of copyright protection.

The United States became a member of the Berne Convention in 1989 joining most of Western Europe, Canada, Mexico, Japan, and Australia.

Therein was established a “principle of national treatment” granting broad international copyright protection to the citizens of the participating countries.

See “Definitions: Berne Convention, WIPO” for clarification.

Isn’t everything on the internet “public domain”?

To the contrary, the vast majority of the images, graphics, writing, music, etc., that is online is copyrighted to someone.

Only works with an expired copyright, works created by the government, or works specifically dedicated by the copyright holder as “public domain” are considered public domain.

Then everything is copyrighted?

The following are basic limitations on copyright:

• Facts, concepts and ideas are not protected by copyright.  How the fact, concept and/or idea is expressed via tangible creation is protected.          

• Works not protected by copyright are considered in public domain and belong to the public for free use. Works with an expired copyright are free use.   

• Fair use exceptions are allowable for such purposes of teaching, research, news reports, parodies, and critiques provided that the value of the copyrighted material is protected.

See “Definitions: Fair Use” for clarification.

What does that copyright notice do?

The use of the symbol © was required after the Copyright Act of 1976. However, after the Berne Convention in March 1989, this notice became optional (a notice of copyright on works created before this date is important due to the legal requirements at the time of creation).

Use of the complete copyright notice is recommended on all original works because the notice will benefit the copyright owner should an issue of infringement occur. A violator cannot claim innocence regarding the established copyright if the copyright notice is apparent.

In addition, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in 1998 makes it illegal to remove Copyright Management Information from protected works.

Some countries may still require a notice of reservation of rights such as the indication, “All rights reserved”.

Be advised that simply placing a copyright symbol or notice on your intellectual property (web pages, writing, etc.) does not legally register the material; the only method for registering your copyright is through the U.S. Copyright Office.

The correct method for indicating the copyright notice is the use of the © symbol followed by the date and owner’s name. This symbol is created on a standard PC keyboard by locking NUM LOCK and holding down the ALT key while using the numbers panel to type in 0169. On Apple’s Mac, using the KeyCaps, press Option+G.

See “Definitions: Copyright Management Information” and “Digital Millennium Copyright Act” for additional information.

Does copyright last forever?

No. The term of copyright is based on when the original work was created, if the copyright was renewed, when the creator/copyright holder may have died, etc.

Please see “Definitions: Copyright Expiration” for additional information.

So how do I legally copyright my work?

In the United States, applying for registered copyright is done through the U.S. Copyright Office.

The actual registration process can take up to 8 months to complete. Be patient.

You can find all the forms online for download at the U.S. Copyright Office Forms page.

Be sure to send your copyright forms and materials by registered or certified mail and requested a return receipt from the post office.

The basic filing fee, as of July 1, 2006, per registration is $45.00 (includes registrations, document recordation, supplementary registration, search services, certificates, and additional certificates). The Copyright Office proposes, on or about July 1, 2007, a reduced fee of $35.00 for an electronic filing of a basic copyright registration while retaining the current $45.00 fee for a paper application.

Can’t I scan an image and put it online?

If you are not the original creator or copyright owner of the image, you cannot legally redistribute that image. Scanning an image and placing it online is redistribution and it is a breach of copyright.

This includes images found in magazines, books, newspapers, greeting cards, calendars, catalogs, CD covers, brochures, etc.

Major companies such as Disney, Hallmark, Warner Brothers, etc., have very strict regulations about the redistribution of their property.

You cannot legally scan and redistribute photographs, cartoons, illustrations, drawings, etc., if they are protected by copyright.

You cannot legally create a “fan site” using copyrighted photographs without the expressed permission of the photographer or copyright owner.              

You cannot “freeze” an image from a television program, movie, or film for redistribution. The television program, movie, or film is protected by copyright as a complete entity and as individual frames.

It is prudent to assume that everything that is published has a restricted copyright. Check the source of the image you want to scan for its copyright restrictions.

But I’m using a photo of my favorite singer as an avatar in the forums and/or on my webpage, that is okay … isn’t it?

Most likely, no.

However, if you took the photograph yourself, then the photograph belongs to you. If you purchased a license from the copyright holder to use the photograph, then you may use the photo without breaching copyright.

But, if you are using a photograph (you have scanned the image or taken the image from a site online) that was taken by another photographer, you are illegally violating the copyright of the photographer and/or management company of the performer.

Just because an individual is in the “public eye” as a performer (singer, actor, politician, etc.), you cannot legally use the images without the expressed consent of the copyright holder who is usually the original photographer and/or the performer’s management company.

Be advised, in most cases, public performers use what is entitled Publicity Rights and do not allow the unlicensed use of their likeness on anything (including personal websites, fansites, etc.) because it implies that the performer endorses the website, individual, etc. Many lawsuits have been brought, litigated and won against individuals for the unlawful use of a performer’s likeness.

Be advised that publicly displaying an image of anyone without their expressed permission is a breach of their Privacy Rights.

See “Definitions: Publicity Rights” & “Definitions: Privacy Rights”

Aren’t clip-art books and graphics CDs copyright free?

Words to the wise: Always check their Terms and Conditions!

Many companies sell clip-art books, graphic CDs, or photography CDs with the claim that they are “free to use”. However, they have very specific restrictions regarding how the images contained within the collection or CD are used.

Purchasing an online image membership or ownership of a CD grants you “license” to use the contents provided you follow all of the Terms and Conditions of the license.

Many companies restrict redistribution of their property in the form of collections of their images and/or the creation of fonts, tubes or nozzles of their images for redistribution.

I learned how to make an image with a tutorial. Is that image mine?

If your resulting image from the tutorial is a reproduction or derivation of the tutorial writer’s original image, the image you created is not held in copyright to you.

The tutorials are copyrighted to their creator. The original image is in copyright to its creator.

The use of images created from these tutorials are restricted to and by the terms of use (license) of the tutorial writer as the creator of the original image.

However, some techniques may not be copyrighted due to the limitations of methods or procedures to accomplish a task, create an effect or produce a file.

Fonts and dingbats can’t be copyrighted, right?


Fonts and dingbats are copyrighted. As such, to share fonts, place them in a collection, make them available on your site for download, distribute them in newsgroups, etc., without the expressed permission of the copyright holder is an illegal act of redistribution.

Purchasing a font online or on a CD grants you “license” to use the font provided you follow all of the Terms and Conditions of the license.         

Many font and dingbat makers restrict the use of their property in redistribution in the form of collections, and in the creation of tubes, brushes or nozzles aided by the font or dingbat.

Can I put my favorite song online?

If the song you placing online is copyrighted to its composer, lyricist, publishing company, etc., then the reproduction of the song without the expressed consent of the copyright owner is illegal.           

Placing unauthorized music in a collection for download is illegal because it violates the exclusive privileges to reproduction and distribution belonging to the copyright owner.

The use of an unauthorized recording on your web site is similar to an image or text infringement: it violates the rights of the copyright owner.

I want to put a poem or song lyric online. Is that okay?

If the poem (lyrics, prose, sonnet) is protected by copyright, you must seek the expressed permission of the copyright owner to publish their protected work.

People are incorrect in thinking that giving the author’s name and book/source title, as credit for a poem, excerpt, lyric, etc., is sufficient.

There are “fair use” aspects to consider such as quoting in part or a portion of a complete work for teaching or journalistic purposes.

However, quoting a complete poem, song lyric, sonnet, etc., in whole and then attributing it to its copyright owner is still regarded as infringement if prior expressed permission has not been obtained.

If you are quoting a line, phrase, or part of a literary text, it is always recommended that you attribute the author, source or copyright holder.         

See “Definitions: Fair Use” for more information.

Can HTML, XHTML, and CSS and other programming languages used to create a website be copyrighted?

It is logical to think that a <BR> code is simply a “break code” and how can anyone copyright it? They cannot.

Think of the coding that creates websites much like the sheet music that creates a melody.

In music, a writer takes musical notes that are common to all music and puts these musical notes together in a manner to create a unique and original melody. The same “coding” or musical notes are used by all musicians and songwriters so that anyone playing the music will hear or play the same melody. It is a standard set of musical bars, musical notes, time-beats, etc., that is common to write sheet music.

Now, when a musician/songwriter creates a new melody (using this common language), the combination of these musical notes, bars, time-beats, etc. is original and unique to that songwriter. His creation is protected by copyright.

Now apply this theory to website coding (or software creation, etc.):

The coding is a standard language. To apply a break code you must implement a <BR>. So, when you take all of the various standard codes (of programming languages) necessary for creating a website and put them together in an original and unique manner, the pattern / use / creation of that HTML, XHTML, CSS, etc., is protected by copyright.

However, since there are only limited numbers of ways to create certain effects on a website using coding, the reproduction of the basic standard of language creates a commonality that limits original creativity and claims of copyright.

Does that “no right mouse click” code protect my images?

No. The javascript code that places a pop-up box on the screen when a “right mouse click” is performed can very easily be bypassed.

The pop-up box should only be considered as a reminder to the individual who may be “right mouse clicking” in an attempt to save copyrighted images to their hard drive.

Will watermarking my images protect them from being stolen?

No. Watermarking simply provides the copyright owner with specific identification properties to mark their images.

Watermarking is no different than engraving your name or identification information on your VCR. If stolen, you can readily identify the VCR in court and before the authorities.

The identification, however, does not prevent the items from being stolen.

Will mailing copies of my original art/writing/photography to myself give me proof of copyright ownership?

There is a method in which some people feel they are protecting their copyright(s) often referred to as a “Poor Man’s Copyright”:

They will make copies of their written work, photos of their images, copies of their sheet music, etc. and place these copies in an envelope and seal this envelope securely. They address the envelope to themselves and post the envelope; often times they will send it to themselves as certified mail. The idea is that the documents inside the envelope are sealed and when mailed, there is a U.S. government record of the date mailed by use of the cancellation/postal stamp. The envelope is NOT opened but instead put away for “safekeeping” in the event that an original copyright date is required. If there was any legal question regarding who created something first, the idea is that the unopened envelope could be entered into the litigation as “proof” of the origin and date of the work.

However, this idea of a “Poor Man’s Copyright” is a myth and not valid in a court of law. The only time copyright litigation can be pursued is when the original creator of intellectual property has REGISTERED the property with the U.S. Office of Copyright (provided they live in the U.S.).

Does the “Poor Man’s Copyright” PROVE that the work was created by the date it was mailed? Not in a legal court of law. Again, the only proof (or prima facie evidence of validity) is when the original work is legally registered with the proper authorities.

I found a website using someone else’s original property but it does not seem like they have permission to use it. What do I do?

While is it very disturbing to see the alleged theft of original art, it is a matter between the artist whose work is being violated and the alleged violator.

You and/or R.I.G.H.T.S. cannot legally confront an alleged violator due to the laws against harassment, slander and libel. In addition, the only recourse is to notify the original creator of the alleged violation by sending a polite, considerate email containing the URL of the alleged misuse of her copyrighted intellectual property.

Only the original creator/writer (or there assigned agents) have the legal right to confront the alleged violator regarding copyright infringement.

I have seen sites that make claims that if you “join their group”, your copyright is protected. Is this for real?

Not unless the group is a law firm who handles issues of copyright and trademark law and have been retained to register your copyright. There may be companies that exist who, for a fee, agree to reproduce and register your intellectual property with the US Office of Copyright.

No online club, or “group” will protect your copyright simply by joining.

Why? Because copyright inherently exists as the result of creating original intellectual property and fixing it to a tangible medium. Period.

There is an insurgence of “copyright groups” who advocate exposing copyright theft, bashing copyright violators, and using a “gang mentality” to discourage the unlawful use of intellectual property. This is not protection against copyright violators.

Be advised, harassment of any kind is illegal and punishable by law. Publishing the names of alleged copyright violators, excessive email or threatening email, posting “flames” to forums, guestbooks, comments, etc. may constitute harassment.

In addition, to make a claim (via email, forum or website) that an individual/website has committed an illegal act subjects the individual making the claim to the legal liability of libel.

Two wrongs do not make a right.

Therefore, if you want to legally protect your copyright, visit the U.S. Copyright Office or an attorney to register your copyrights.

If you feel your copyright(s) have been violated, seek only the counsel of an attorney or proper legal advice. Pursuing individuals through “gang flaming” may result in numerous additional legal ramifications.

The violation of your copyright is a legal matter and exists only between the original creator/copyright holder and the alleged violator. Encouraging group action may not only be illegal but can weaken your case should your situation be pursued through litigation.

I made a website for a company. Do they own the graphics?

That depends on two things:

• (1) If you are an employee of the company that the website was developed for and the website development was part of your job, then the copyright is owned by the company.

You are considered an employee of the company if they pay your Social Security taxes and/or provide you with benefits such as insurance, unemployment insurance, or retirement benefits. The website belongs to the company and is considered “works for hire”.

If you are an employee of the company and create the website but the development of the website is outside of the scope of your regular employment responsibilities, then the copyright ownership is automatically yours.

While it is not required to sign a contract with your employer stipulating that you own the graphics, coding, etc., it is always prudent to agree in writing.                  

• (2) If you are not an employee of the company, the graphics, coding, etc., are considered commissioned and remain copyrighted to you.                   

A website is not considered “works for hire” because “works for hire” are clearly defined in the Copyright Act of 1976 to be nine specific types of work; elements of a webpage rarely fall into those nine categories.

You can, however, transfer the ownership of the developed website to the company under a very specific contract, signed by both parties, indicating the assignment of the copyright.

See “Definitions: Works for Hire” for additional information.

I bought rubber stamps used for crafting, stamped them, hand colored them and scanned them to place on my website. Is this okay?

I want to craft some projects using rubber stamps and sell what I make … is this okay?

According to one of the largest rubber stamp crafting companies worldwide, they do not allow their stamped images to be reproduced in an electronic (i.e. the computer, web pages, etc.) or mechanical format:

“All of the designs featured in our catalog are copyrighted by INKADINKADO and the many artists noted. INKADINKADO is proud to be an “angel” company, and we encourage the use of our products in crafts made by the consumer and by the professional crafter. Do keep in mind that all of the stamp images we produce are for private, non-commercial use only, and that reproduction of those images in electronic or mechanical form, is strictly prohibited. All rights reserved.”

Many more of the rubber stamps manufacturers, retailers, and/or artists also have rules prohibiting the “electronic” reproduction of their stamps. As such, it is advised that you check each company’s terms of use before placing stamped images online.

If you plan to use the rubber stamps to handmake craft items to sell, it is advised to check EACH rubber stamp manufacturer’s “terms of use” (perhaps their Angel Policy if they are an “Angel Company”) before proceeding with selling the crafted items. Each manufacturer, retailer, and/or artist may have different requirements for their terms of use.

A long time ago I saved some linkware graphics but lost the bookmark. Is it okay to make a webpage with them if I write that I do not remember where they came from?

No. You must follow the Terms and Conditions of the linkware artist whose graphics you are using.

Without the linking logo and correct URL link, you are violating those Terms and Conditions.

I am under legal age. Can I claim copyright?

Yes you can.

The U.S. Office of Copyright will issue copyright to minors.

However, if contracts or business dealings are required, you should consult an attorney due to the liability of a minor signing contracts, etc.

Is email copyrighted?

Yes it is.

The original author of an email letter holds the copyright on that email and that email is protected under the same laws as a physical letter.

So unless the author has granted permission for the email to be reprinted or it is being reprinted under the conditions of fair use, the reproduction, forwarding, copying or modifying an email is copyright infringement.

Can’t I take an image and change it to make it mine?

No. Because one of the exclusive rights granted under copyright is the individual right of the copyright owner to create derivative works from their original copyrighted material.

Modifying or altering an image is infringing upon the copyright owner’s rights unless expressed permission is granted or the modification falls under fair use (which is highly unlikely).

In a few court cases, a modified image was not considered infringement because the original image was no longer recognizable due to the extent and variety of the alterations.

Altering or modifying published works is strongly not recommended because most artists, writers, musicians, photographers, etc., can recognize their own work even through modifications.

Many people believe the “myth” that if they change an existing image a percentage (10%, 30%, etc.), then they can legally use the image. Be advised: that is not the law.

How do I find out who is hosting a website?

There are three basic types of web hosting options: a registered domain host, an ISP site host, and a free webspace site host.

• Registered domain host – This is a site that has a unique domain name that has been purchased for the exclusive use of the website. For example, is a unique domain name. When a domain name is purchased, the name has to be directed to specific server DNS codes. These servers are owned by the host of the site. All domain names are registered in main databases and the host information is available to the general public.

To find the host of a site that has a registered domain name, simply go to any WHOIS engine and search the database. R.I.G.H.T.S. uses BetterWhoIs located at because it offers a comprehensive search that looks through all registrars’ databases.

Enter the domain name: (the www. is already provided)

Read through the resulting data to find either “Name Servers”, “Nameservers” or “DNS Servers”; that data would be displayed as:  (or .org, .net, etc.)  (or .org, .net, etc.)

Although the actual domain name may have been registered “anonymously”, the server who is hosting the site will always be listed.

In the case of, the name server is “”. Simply go to and follow the site to the web host information.

If the nameserver information does not directly lead you to the host website, repeat the WHOIS on the listed host’s NS information.

Read through the host page(s) to find their own Terms of Service; locate the clause referring to the illegal use of copyrighted material.

Find the email address of an administrative contact or “report of abuse” contact. If they only provide an online reporting form, complete the form accurately and provide all the required data.

•Internet Service Provider Hosted Site (ISP) – These sites are commonly recognized by the extension of a tilde ~ following the ISP main address. Basically the site is being hosted by the same company that the web site owner uses to login to the internet.

The URL may look like this:

The “” is the host. Read through their page(s) to find their own Terms of Service; locate the clause referring to the illegal use of copyrighted material.

Find the email address of an administrative contact or “report of abuse” contact. If they only provide an online reporting form, complete the form accurately and provide all the required data.

• Free Web Site Hosting Services – These sites allow web pages to be loaded to their server without charging the website “author” for the server space; instead the host/server places unremovable advertising on the pages to generate revenue. The URL of the site determines which free service is being used.

Read through their page(s) to find their own Terms of Service; locate the clause referring to the illegal use of copyrighted material.

Find the email address of an administrative contact or “report of abuse” contact. If they only provide an online reporting form, complete the form accurately and provide all the required data.

See “Definitions: Notice of Claimed Infringement” or “Examples: Letter to a Site Host”

The data contained within this site has been reviewed and edited by a copyright attorney. However, the information provided within the pages of R.I.G.H.T.S is not implied or direct legal advice. For all matters involving copyright, please consult an attorney.

jQuery(document).ready(function($) { $('.collapseomatic').on('click', function (e) { if ( ! jQuery(this).hasClass('active-btn')) { jQuery(this).addClass('active-btn'); jQuery(window).trigger('resize'); window.dispatchEvent(new Event('resize')); } }); });