Copyrights are a good business investment. According to CopyrightKids.com, they protect the creators and owners of elements key to a company's brand -- including books and publications, music, films and even paintings -- from being copied, performed or displayed without permission. If you have an item or piece of intellectual property that you want to reproduce, first find out who, if anyone, owns its copyright. This is not always possible due to natural copyright. However, most published works or business items are registered with the U.S. Copyright office.
Look for a copyright symbol to identify the author or owner of the copyrighted item or work. For example, in books, this person or business name is often found next to a copyright symbol (a "C" inside of a circle) after the title page. You can also contact the owner directly, if possible, to ask if he still holds the copyright to the material in which you are interested.
Pay attention to the date of copyright, if provided. There may not be an owner of the copyright of a work, in some instances. According to Roger Pearse on tertullian.org, the following are out of copyright: material published in and before 1922; and between January 1, 1923 and December 31,1963 unless the copyright was renewed. For more information on copyright expiration, called transition to public domain, see Resources for Cornell University's guide.
Use online resources to conduct research into existing copyright ownership. Visit the Online Books Page Catalogue of Copyright Entries at the University of Pennsylvania (see Resources) to access some online copyright renewal records. Or, try a free search of copyright registration records dated 1978 to the present on the U.S. Copyright Office website at Copyright.gov.
Conduct a free, manual search in person at the U.S. Copyright Office in Washington, D.C., for materials dated 1978 and prior. If you cannot do this investigation yourself, the office staff will do it for you and charge $165 per hour for a two-hour minimum inquiry. The address is 101 Independence Ave. S.E. Washington, D.C. 20559-6000. You can reach the office by phone at (202) 707-3000 or (toll free) 1-877-476-0778.
- U.S. Copyright Office: Can I Use Someone Else's Work? Can Someone Else Use Mine?
- The Tertullian Project: Copyrights; What Is the Law, and How Do I Find Out the Status of an Item?; Roger Pearse; January 2002
- Copyright Kids: What Is Copyright?
- Cornell University; Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States; January 2011
Robyn D. Clarke Ngwabi is an award-winning journalist with over 15 years of professional writing and editing experience. She was named to TJFR Group/NewsBios' 30 Under 30 list at age 25 while serving as careers editor for a nationally published niche business magazine. She is currently at the dissertation stage of completing a Ph.D. in educational policy and leadership at Marquette University.