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Right to Copyright

Copyrighting certainly is more important to consider today than ever as years of research and creation can quickly be stolen from right under our noses. And violation of the law can cost thousands in legal fees and penalties. But the laws as to what is copyrightable confuses many.

I recently attended a cooking class with my sisters and asked the school if I may publish one of their recipes on this blog. The call was simply a courtesy since recipes are not copyrightable. However, the cooking school owner denied my request, and I respectfully did not post the recipe.

Copyright law does not protect recipes or other listings of ingredients. It may protect the literary expression that surrounds it such as the write-up on the recipe or a collection of recipes as in a cookbook.

In addition to lists and recipes, works not protected are those not in a fixed and tangible form, titles, names, short phrases, slogans, familiar symbols, lettering, coloring, ideas, procedures, methods, systems, concepts, common information and principles, and standards such as height and weight charts.

Items that are protected include works that are literary, musical, dramatic, pantomime, choreographed, pictorial, graphic, sculptural, motion pictures, sound recordings, and architectural in nature.

Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States to authors of original works. Copyright gives the owner of the work the exclusive right to produce and distribute or perform the work. It is illegal for anyone to violate any of these rights.

Copyright protection exists from creation in a fixed form. This is regardless if it includes the copyright symbol (©) or is formally registered.

When a work is “made for hire,” or commonly called a “work for hire,” which is when the work is done on behalf of another party and the creator is paid by that person or company to create the work, the work belongs to the employer. The creator of the work is not considered the author. The employer is in this case.

Copyright applies automatically upon creation of a work in a fixed form. The use of a copyright notice  is not required but is beneficial. It informs the public that the work is protected by copyright and identifies the owners. The date of first publication also may appear.

Works created on or after January 1, 1978 are protected from the moment of creation in a fixed form, throughout the author’s life, and continues until 70 years after the author’s death. When a work is a product of joint authors, the copyright extends until the death of the longest living survivor plus 70 years.

Unfortunately, there is no such thing as international copyright. The laws vary depending on the country.

For more information or to copyright your work, go to or contact the Library of Congress, U.S. Copyright Office, 101 Independence Avenue Se, Washington, DC 20559.

©2012, Mary K. Doyle

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