Seven Copyright Myths Debunked

Romano Law


Romano Law
Copyright is an interesting but complex area of law. This complexity has led to many misconceptions about copyright.
United States Intellectual Property
To print this article, all you need is to be registered or login on

Copyright is an interesting but complex area of law. This complexity has led to many misconceptions about copyright. In this article, we will debunk seven common copyright misconceptions to help clarify this fascinating area of law.

"If It's On The Internet, It's Free To Use." – FALSE

A common myth is that anything found on the internet is free for the taking. This is far from the truth. Public accessibility of content does not inherently grant permission for its use. Most content is protected by copyright law, and unless the work is clearly in the public domain, the safest course is to assume that the creator holds the rights. If one inadvertently uses registered material, a court may grant damages ranging from $750 to $30,000 per work. This amount increases to $150,000 if the court finds that the infringement was "willful."

"There Is No © Symbol, So I Can Use The Work." – MOSTLY FALSE

It true that a copyright notice was necessary to protect works created before March 1, 1989. However, works created on or after March 1, 1989, do not need this formality. Although it is wise for a copyright holder to include a proper notice in new works, it is no longer required. The safest course is to assume works are protected by copyright, regardless of whether there is a notice, until you can determine the work is in the public domain.

"I Gave The Author Credit, So I Don't Need Permission." – FALSE

Giving credit to the original creator is good etiquette, but credit alone does not grant the right to use copyrighted material. Simply acknowledging the source of the content does not absolve you from copyright infringement. Permission must be obtained from the copyright holder before using their work.

"If I Modify A Copyrighted Work, It Becomes Mine." – FALSE

Modifying a copyrighted work, like editing an image or remixing a song, does not automatically transfer ownership or grant you the right to use the work. In fact, the opposite may be true. Modifying a work without permission may violate the author's exclusive right to create derivative works, which is included in the section 106 "bundle of rights." Although transformative use may be deemed fair use in certain cases, mere modification of a work might not inherently qualify. If you are hoping to create a derivative version of a protected work, the safest option is to seek permission from the copyright holder before you make the new version.

"Copyright Lasts Forever." – FALSE

Copyright protection lasts a long time, but not forever. For works created after January 1, 1978, copyright protection generally lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years. For works made for hire, anonymous, or pseudonymous works protection generally lasts for 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is longer. For works that were created before 1978, there are several factors that need to be considered, such as which version of the copyright act applies, whether the formalities of that act were adhered to, and whether the copyright term was renewed. After the applicable period ends, the work enters the public domain, where it can be freely used by anyone without permission, with some caveats. If you are unsure whether a work is in the public domain, an experienced copyright attorney may be able to assist.

"I Don't Need To Register My Work To Have Copyright Protection." – TRUE AND FALSE

Copyright protection is automatic once an original work is "fixed in a tangible medium", but registering your work with the copyright office provides additional benefits and protections. Registering your work establishes a public record of your copyright claim and allows you to sue for infringement. Additionally, registering your work before an infringement occurs allows you to seek statutory damages and attorney's fees. In contrast, if an author waits to register their work until after an infringement has already occurred, their remedies are limited to actual damages, which are very difficult to prove. Registering a work as soon as practicable provides the best protection.

"I Mailed Myself A Copy Of My Work. I Don't Need To Register It." – FALSE

Some have referred to this myth as "The Poor Man's Copyright." Under this myth, if a creator mails themselves a copy of an original work and never opens the envelope, a court will treat such a work as if it were registered. This is false. The copyright act makes no mention of "Poor Man's Copyright" or anything like it. A postmark on an unopened envelope may be used as evidence that the work existed on a certain date but mailing a copy of your work is not a substitute for registering it. The best way to protect a creation is to properly register it with the Copyright Office.


There are many copyright misconceptions floating around. If you are a creator, it is crucial to understand how to protect your work. Don't fall victim to one of the common copyright myths. Consulting with an experienced intellectual property attorney can help shine a light on the complexities of copyright law.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

See More Popular Content From

Mondaq uses cookies on this website. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies as set out in our Privacy Policy.

Learn More