Copyrights 101: What You Need to Know (Part 2)

Copyrights 101: What You Need to Know (Part 2) by Pat Werschulz

Last time, we talked about how to get a copyright and when it takes effect. There are many things we use in our daily lives and you may wonder who owns the copyright.

Copyrights Owned by Individuals & Corporations

Any copyrights that are owned by individuals are always part of their estate. For work that was created after we became participants in the Berne Convention, the copyright lasts seventy years after the death of the last author. So, if you and your grandkids decide to write a song together, that copyright is going to last until you or your grandchild passes away. If you have a young grandchild, that could be pretty long.

Copyrights are often owned by governments as well as corporations. Generally speaking, if it’s part of your job to create something, like writing a manual or something along those lines, your employer owns it because it’s part of your job. Most people in that type of job sign an agreement saying that the employer owns all of the intellectual property that is created as part of the job.

The tricky part is looking at who owns the copyright in some of the day-to-day stuff. For example, if you’re going to a photographer to have a portrait done, you need to understand who owns the copyright. Many times professional portrait photographers often will include in the price of the session the copyrights to the photographs, while retaining the rights to display or use your photograph as part of their portfolio. It is not uncommon to provide digital media for your unlimited use because you own the copyrights. On the other hand, many wedding photographers do not allow any of the copyrights to be included in their contract — so that any time you want another copy of a picture or a new album, you have to go through them.

When I started my firm, I did two things: I had a logo designed and I had professional portraits done on my website. One thing I made very clear when I commissioned these works was that I would own the copyrights to them, which meant I had the right to copy, display, and make derivative works of their work. And they retained the rights to display the work as part of their portfolios.

Copyrights are very important in everyday life and they’re very easy to obtain, i.e., as soon as you fix it in media. Next time, I will explain how to register your copyright and all of the different rights that are involved in the copyright law.

It is best to discuss your specific situation and questions about copyrights with an experienced intellectual property attorney.

Patricia Werschulz

Patricia P. Werschulz
Werschulz Patent Law, LLC
23 North Avenue East
Cranford, NJ 07016
Email us