Creative Law Network


What is Copyright Protection All About?

These days, with such easy access to everything on the Internet—from movies to books to pictures—many people assume that creative works are free to be used by anyone for anything. If it is on the Internet then it’s public, right? Wrong. Finding a photo online doesn’t mean that the person who owns it wants you using it on your website or for your own purpose. You can search for new music online, but that doesn’t mean you can freely copy and play that music wherever, whenever, or however you please. So, how can you tell what works are protected by copyright?

Copyright Defined


Copyright is the term used to describe the rights given to the creator of an artistic work. Copyright ownership begins at the moment the work is created and put in a form people can touch, see, or hear. The moment you finish a drawing or painting, it is copyrighted. The moment you express your ideas on paper or in digital format, what you’ve written is copyrighted. The moment you write and/or record a song, it is copyrighted. Copyright covers what are traditionally thought of as artistic works, such as writings, pictures, music and sculpture, but it also covers computer programs, technical drawings, maps and databases—the unique expressions of creative minds and bodies.

Ideas cannot be copyrighted. It is only when those ideas get their unique, tangible expression that they are copyrighted. If a person takes a photo of a building or writes about the zombie apocalypse, the idea of the picture or story can’t be copyrighted, but the way those ideas are expressed is what is copyrighted and owned by the creator.

What Owning Copyright Means

What does owning a copyright mean? There are many exclusive rights that come with being the owner of a copyrighted work. Copyright owners have the exclusive right to, or to authorize others to, reproduce a work, distribute a work, publish or present a work, and prepare other works based on that work—like adapting a book into a movie. Having the “exclusive” right means that the copyright owner is the only one allowed to use or license these rights. Anyone else that uses these rights without permission is infringing – or violating – the copyright owner’s rights.

Copyright Registration

Although a creator owns a copyright as soon as the work is created, in the United States it is best for the creator to register that copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. Registrations are fairly inexpensive and can be submitted online. Often times, mulitiple works can be registered with one registration application and one registration fee. A copyright registration is the best proof a person can have that they own the copyright in a work. The value of that registration frequently far exceeds the cost of registration.

Copyrights are valuable and the rights granted by copyright are exclusive. So, next time you’re online and thinking of using someone else’s creative work, be sure you have the right to do so.  Just because it is online doesn’t mean you have permission to use it.

Creative Law Network has expert attorneys based in Denver, CO to guide clients through the intricacies of copyright law and help them protect their rights. For more information, visit

Dave Ratner