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How do you know if you're infringing on a copyright?

When a business, company or individual is granted a copyright, that piece of work -- whether it’s an invention or a blockbuster movie -- is now protected by copyright laws that prohibit another person from using, reproducing, displaying, distributing or performing that work without the expressed permission of the copyright holder.

Failing to abide by these laws can lead to accusations of copyright infringement which, as you may already know, can lead to serious litigation. It's something we have touched on in a number of our blog posts already, but how do you know if you're infringing on a copyright? It's this question that we will look at in today's post.

As you may or may not know, anything that can be tangibly expressed can be copyrighted. This includes:

  • architectural works
  • movies and other audiovisual works
  • artwork including sculptures, pictures and graphics
  • musical works
  • dramatic works
  • literary works
  • sound recordings

When determining whether copyright infringement has occurred or not, the courts look at whether there is substantial similarity between two works. Copyright infringement is said to have occurred if any ordinary observer can identify striking similarities between two works. This could mean everything from using movie logos that look nearly identical to ones already in use, as our more frequent readers saw in one of our April posts, or crafting a story that mirrors the plotline of an existing copyrighted literary work.

As you can imagine, not all instances of copyright infringement occur intentionally. Sometimes they occur because of a mistake or sheer coincidence. Either way though, as we said above, accusations of infringement can lead to litigation that can then lead to damages being paid to the copyright owner. This is why it's important to get the help of a skilled lawyer right away because they can explain your own rights and help you reach an amicable resolution with the other party.

Source: Inventors.about.com, "What Can Be Copyrighted?" Mary Bellis, Accessed Oct. 28, 2014

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