© 2013 LyannV

Taking Stock: A Few Elementary Principles of Copyright

Sunflowers original photo ©2012 Lyann Valadez

original photo ©2012 Lyann Valadez

It’s hard work to create an original piece of material, and it can be hard work, too, to understand copyright law. Even so, it’s important to understand at least basic copyright principles in order to protect your own work and lessen the possibility of infringing on the copyright of other authors.

Copyright is a bundle of exclusive rights granted to the author of a creative work. Any of these rights may be sold or licensed through transfers of copyright ownership. Copyright is acquired automatically once a work is fixed in a tangible medium of expression.

Registration of a work with the Copyright Office is not a precondition for protection, although formal registration with the Copyright Office is required to bring an action for copyright infringement. Through the system of “Creative Commons,” a creator can opt to reserve certain rights while granting other rights to the users of the works.

Copyright law encourages creative work by granting a temporary monopoly to an author’s creations.

Painted Lady ©2013 Lyann Valadez

Painted Lady
derivative work ©2013 Lyann Valadez

For material to be copyrightable, it must be original and in a fixed medium.

Copyright vests in the creator of a work (the author).

A copyright owner has the exclusive rights to:

• Reproduce copyrighted work,

• Prepare a derivative work,

• Distribute copies of the work,

• Display the work to the public, ,

• Perform the work publicly or through digital audio transmission.

Again, any of these rights may be transferred by the copyright owner to another person or entity.

Copyright ownership can hinge on an employment relationship. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that copyright ownership depends on whether a work was prepared as an employee or an independent contractor. Unless there is a, written agreement to the contrary, a freelancer is considered an independent contractor and is presumed to hold the copyright.  An employee’s work is considered “work for hire” and copyright belongs to the employer.

Daphne Thompson, a meteorologist at the National Weather Center in Norman, Oklahoma, designed a “I’d Rather Be Storm Chasing” t-shirt for a contest held by an informal employee group.  When asked how she came up with the idea, Ms. Thompson stated, “I saw ‘I’d rather be doing all sorts of things’ and thought that would be great for a storm chasing shirt.”

Detail of t-shirt design by Daphne Thompson

Detail of t-shirt design by Daphne Thompson

The shirt not only won the contest, but has become the best-selling t-shirt at the Weather Center’s annual National Weather Festival. When asked about the copyright for the t-shirt, Ms. Thompson said “I haven’t given any thought to that. I just designed the shirt and never even thought about copyright.” It is worth noting here that copyright protection does not extend to ideas, but is afforded only to the tangible expression of ideas.

Ms. Thompson also designed the Billy and Maria weather coloring books for children, which are a series of coloring books for children who want to learn about weather. Ms. Thompson readily acknowledges that works produced by the United States government, any government agency, or any person acting in a government capacity, are in the public domain, and therefore she does not own the copyright to the characters.

The following video was taken at the National Weather Center during a group tour, and the copyright is held by the videographer. In this video, tour guide Tim Humphrey talks about a video produced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), available on YouTube:

(video © 2013 Lyann Valadez)

The NOAA video, below, is in the public domain, as it is essentially a government publication. The video, along with other footage and media resources, is available for download at: NOAA Weather Partners Office of Communications and External Affairs – B-Roll

In summary, as of January 1, 1978, all works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression within the subject matter of copyright are deemed to fall within the  jurisdiction of the Copyright Act regardless of whether the work was created before or after that date and whether published or unpublished.

Although not required by law, a Copyright notice may be placed on copies of a work by the owner.
Generally, a proper copyright notice contains:
1. The symbol ©, the word “Copyright”, or the abbreviation “Copr.”
2. The year of first publication of the work.
3. The name of the copyright owner, a recognizable abbreviation of the copyright owner’s name, or a generally known alternative designation of the owner.
The notice must also be placed on copies of a work to give reasonable notice of the claim of copyright.

The specific copyright notice provisions are set forth in 17 U.S.C. § 401-406.

According to the U.S. Copyright Act, registration of copyright is voluntary and may
take place at any time during the term of protection. Although registration of a work with
the Copyright Office is not required for protection, an action for
copyright infringement may only be commenced if the copyright has been
formally registered with the Copyright Office.

Daphne Thompson with budding storm chaser Rane photo ©2012 Lyann Valadez *This website is not intended for, nor was it created to provide any type of legal advice. If you have any questions about the law, contact an attorney.

Daphne Thompson with budding storm chaser Rane
photo ©2012 Lyann Valadez
*This website is not intended for, nor was it created to provide any type of legal advice. If you have any questions about the law, contact an attorney.




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  1. […] more information about the Weather Sphere at the National Weather Center, please contact Daphne Thompson at 405-325-6892 […]

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