How can I Obtain a Legal Copyright?

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  • Written By: Mary Elizabeth
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 15 January 2020
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Copyright is a kind of protection granted by law for certain kinds of original works. There are some restrictions and limitations on the kinds of works that can register for legal copyright and different legislation is in effect in different countries. There are also international copyright conventions. The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works and the Universal Copyright Convention (UCC) are the main international copyright laws.

The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works originated on 8 September 1886 and was first complete on 4 May 1896. It has since been revised five times and was most recently amended on 28 September 1979. As of 2010, there were 164 parties to the convention. The Universal Copyright Convention was adopted on 6 September 1952 and revised on 24 July 1971. There are 65 parties to the convention, some of which are also parties to the Berne Convention. Both conventions are written to allow for individual variation between and among parties.


The restrictions on legal copyright have some variance depending on country. For example, the Berne Convention states that it is up to specific countries to determine whether works “shall not be protected unless they have been fixed in some material form.” In the United States, it is, in fact, the case, that legal copyright cannot be obtained for a work until it has been set in a “tangible form.” In other words, the fully developed haiku in one’s head is not copyrighted in the United States. It receives legal copyright protection the moment it is, for example, written on a scrap of paper.

There are also differences in the length of time that legal copyright endures for a work. For example, in some countries, the legal copyright term is limited to the life of the author plus 50 years. In others, it is the life of the author plus 70 years. In the United States, copyright law is complicated. In general, works published prior to 1923 are now considered to be in the public domain. Works that were published between 1923 and 1968 may or may not still be legally copyrighted, depending on whether the copyright was renewed and/or if the original publication had a proper copyright notice. Thus, for some works, whether a legal copyright is in effect depends on where one is.


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