I have worked in 20 areas of the sciences and the arts legitimately
since 1970, producing copyrights, patents and trademarks owned solely by me.
A Necessary Introduction:
I have been a published writer, composer and artist since 1970. I wrote a column for the Millcreek Sentinel in the early 1970s. You can see my current offerings at my Bookstore.
If I were to teach a class of 30 students about writing, the first class would be a simple assignment. I would give all the students one, single idea, and tell them to write a short story on that idea for the next class.
I should get 30 unique, different stories, not all of them good, not all of them that original. I should also get 30 different titles. The assignment, however, is not about writing a short story. It is to teach them that all ideas are worthless, and 30 students can write 30 different stories from a single idea. Does it matter that I gave them the idea myself? Should they try to take credit for someone's idea?
People who have ideas do something with the ideas.
If the idea is not so good, they throw it away and try to come up with another one that's better. That's why the law protects only works created from ideas, not the ideas themselves.
In other words, you cannot re-write someone's original story, which is what is called a work. To pass someone else's story off as yours would be fraud. To take bits and pieces of it and incorporate them into your own work is plagiarism. Moreover, trying to defraud someone of a copyright is a criminal offense, because the law prohibits the involuntary transfer of such copyright. A copyright protects your work in whole and in part. You also get the title and the common law trademark as well.
The title is not an idea. It is a label or a name.
For example, "Swiss Family Robinson" is a title, but that is not the idea from which the story is created. The idea would go something like this: A family is shipwrecked on a deserted island, but they thrive on that island until others arrive.
The title tells you nothing. The idea describes the story.
On the other hand, you can also have "Gilligan's Island," "Swept Away," and of course "Robinson Crusoe" as well. You have different stories with different titles. In essence, the title is the copyright, since it is a part of the work, and you are indeed protected in whole and in part.
Generally, people who talk about ideas are total phonies. They are most probably repeating what they hear, or tweaking something they read.
Who would have a good idea and do nothing? Even in computer programming, if you have an idea and do not know how to program, why not hire a computer programmer? In other words, do something. An idea is only a sentence or two, or maybe a short paragraph. A work is quite a bit more complicated, detailed and lengthy.
I have done work both ways. My first published novel in 1975 was based on a totally original idea I had, with a unique, one-of-a-kind story. My second novel was based on a very old idea, but I used it to write a comedy/parody of such an idea, yet also with a unique, one-of-a-kind story.
That's what makes a writer a writer. And, if my work is still valid decades years later, I must be fairly good at it.
What Are Copyrights?
Here in the United States you own what you produce until you sell it or you give it away. The laws concerning this principle are quite clear and non-ambiguous, at least as far as Title 17 is concerned.
Title 17, which is the Copyright Law, divides ownership into 2 types. If you work for yourself, you own the work for your life plus 70 years. If you work for someone else and do this work for hire, the person for whom you work owns the work. There is no ambiguity and the issue is hardly ever in question, with the exception of when someone is deceased or when an old copyright may require renewal.
If you are the author, the copyright vests in the author on the date of completion.
Therefore, to send a message to those who would like it another way, you have to have clear title to any work in order to own it.
In other words, I must say to the crooks, "You do not own anything."
Copyright is granted only to completed works in tangible, fixed form. Of those, I own more than 1,500 completed works.
This is the way the law must be, for the only protection one gets is for the work one does, and if you did not do any work, you do not get copyright or credit.
Not all things that you do are copyrightable under the law.
§102. Subject matter of copyright: In general
(a) Copyright protection subsists, in accordance with this title, in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device. Works of authorship include the following categories:
(1) literary works;
(2) musical works, including any accompanying words;
(3) dramatic works, including any accompanying music;
(4) pantomimes and choreographic works;
(5) pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works;
(6) motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
(7) sound recordings; and
(8) architectural works.
(b) In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.
In paragraph (b) above, you will notice the first 3 words --- "In no case...
Copyright Law deals only in works, and anything not falling under this definition will not be given the exclusive protection allowed by Title 17. A work is something that must be, in general, completed in a tangible medium in fixed form. Otherwise, there would be nothing to copy, reproduce or perform.
§201. Ownership of copyright
(a) INITIAL OWNERSHIP.-Copyright in a work protected under this title vests initially in the author or authors of the work. The authors of a joint work are co-owners of copyright in the work.
(b) WORKS MADE FOR HIRE.-In the case of a work made for hire, the employer or other person for whom the work was prepared is considered the author for purposes of this title, and, unless the parties have expressly agreed otherwise in a written instrument signed by them, owns all of the rights comprised in the copyright.
In addition to this, Title 17 gives many specific statutes concerning these copyrights.
§201, (e) INVOLUNTARY TRANSFER.-When an individual author's ownership of a copyright, or of any of the exclusive rights under a copyright, has not previously been transferred voluntarily by that individual author, no action by any governmental body or other official or organization purporting to seize, expropriate, transfer, or exercise rights of ownership with respect to the copyright, or any of the exclusive rights under a copyright, shall be given effect under this title, except as provided under title 11.
§202. Ownership of copyright as distinct from ownership of material object
Ownership of a copyright, or of any of the exclusive rights under a copyright, is distinct from ownership of any material object in which the work is embodied. Transfer of ownership of any material object, including the copy or phonorecord in which the work is first fixed, does not of itself convey any rights in the copyrighted work embodied in the object; nor, in the absence of an agreement, does transfer of ownership of a copyright or of any exclusive rights under a copyright convey property rights in any material object.
As you can see above, owning an object does not necessarily mean that you own the rights to such an object. The best example might be the purchase of a book, where you own the physical copy of the book, but certainly not the right to reproduce it.
As long as a work has not previously been done as work made for hire, there is no involuntary transfer of such copyright ownership, not even to the U.S. government. The author is the owner of copyright, beginning on the date of completion. You cannot be made to sue someone to retain ownership of any copyright, nor can anyone sue you for such copyright ownership. As shown above, this is exactly what cannot be done --- no involuntary transfer, with or without a court.
This is also where one acquires a right to compensation, since involuntary transfer cannot be obtained. The author must either sell it or give it away.
There is no similar clause under Title 35, which governs patents, because patents concern themselves with utility, not expression. Title 17 protects the expression, in some fixed form, such as a manuscript.
This reference is, of course, to ownership of a work, and should not be confused with infringement of a work, which is a cousin to plagiarism. The ownership of a work cannot be lost, as long as it was not done for hire.
You need a date of completion to define a date of expiration, which in this case is the author's life plus 70 years. The duration of the copyright is fixed, and extends to the end of the year in which it expires.
§302. Duration of copyright: Works created on or after January 1, 1978
(a) IN GENERAL.-Copyright in a work created on or after January 1, 1978, subsists from its creation and, except as provided by the following subsections, endures for a term consisting of the life of the author and 70 years after the author's death.
Additionally, there is no transfer of copyright ownership without a written instrument of conveyance, so swindling someone out of a copyright is extremely difficult to do. First it has to be entirely voluntary, and second a written instrument of such transfer must be filed.
The copyrights I have which certain people covet are more than 30 to 40 years old, and there is additional information to state relating to this.
Registration of a copyright or publication of a copyrighted product is entirely voluntary. Neither is required to gain full protection under the law. Second, there is also no requirement to pursue production of such copyrights. They can even lie dormant, as long as they are not in the public domain.
Any works which fall into the public domain are sometimes defined as belonging to nobody and belonging to everybody. What this means, in truth, is that the exclusive rights concerning such works cannot be held in perpetuity. The rights will run out in terms of a minimum of 95 years or 120 years, depending on whether they were published or unpublished.
In my case, I have actively pursued production for decades, since the late 1970s and early 1980s, and many are indeed registered and a smaller amount published. It would be absurd for anyone to think they could try to co-opt one of my copyrights when I have pursued its public production and distribution for decades. It would be, at a minimum, grand larceny.
For example, trying to make a motion picture with the same title as mine, while I have pursued production for that motion picture for many years myself with my own copyright, would be a criminal offense in several ways, not just grand larceny. They would be clearly trying to devalue the copyright I own as well as preventing me from making money from such a copyright. The title is the copyright in this case. It is the name of the product which distinguishes it from others.
Certainly it is impossible for me to lose such copyright ownership, so I can always issue a Cease and Desist Order, which means stop and do not continue to try to take something you do not own. I do not have to sue someone to retain ownership of copyright.
Finally, for someone to try to circumvent the laws in order to illegally obtain such ownership is a criminal offense in this country, the least charge being conspiracy to defraud. There is no need to enumerate all of the charges that could potentially be filed against the culprit.
The concept of copyright goes back a long way and it is not peculiar to the United States. Beethoven, for example, protected his music in Europe in the same way we do. Copyright deals in the fact that authors or artists deal in one-of-a-kind items or works, and to use these one-of-a-kind items or works would require some kind of permission or compensation.
Thus, we have Title 17 here in the United States, and I am very grateful for this particular law.
END OF ARTICLE
Mr. J.V. Presogna is a published writer, composer and artist with a strong background in science and mathematics. He is the author of "The Truth About Eden," his first novel published in 1975, and numerous other works as well, including "An Extension of Relativity," which explains how to solve wave-particle duality specifically for the photon.