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Copyright Registration in Other Countries

21 July 2022

As you’re probably already familiar, copyright is a type of intellectual property that protects how a person’s original idea(s) are communicated. These original ideas are communicated as ‘works’, which may be literary, dramatic, musical, or artistic. For simplicity, imagine you created the movie Titantic. The script you wrote can serve as a literary and/or dramatic work, the soundtrack (which is amazing, obviously) serves as a musical work, the movie’s poster may serve as an artistic work, etc. The list could go on and on, but you get the idea! There are so many ways one can attract copyright in their original works.

The two main elements that determine whether copyright subsists in a work depends on whether the work is original and is in material form. As learned in Telstra Corporation Ltd v Phone Directories, a leading Australian case in copyright, ‘originality’ means ‘the creation (that is the production) of the work required some independent effort.’ In other words, if it took a degree of labour or skill to produce, the work is original. For a work to be in ‘material form’, it simply needs to have been created in some format (ie. on Microsoft Word), whether visible or not.

Back to our Titanic example. Let’s say you have written the original script for the movie and have pitched it to the movie producers, but you have concerns about another scriptwriter stealing your idea. How do you go about obtaining copyright protection for your work internationally? Can you register your works for copyright protection? The short answer – it depends on the country you are seeking copyright protection from.

In Australia, there is no formal way to register for copyright protection. This may sound disappointing, but it is just one less step for you in maintaining your intellectual property. So long as you can prove that your work is original and in material form, copyright subsists and the work is protected up to 70 years after the author’s death. If someone steals your Titanic script, you would be entitled to initiate proceedings in the Federal Court of Australia. 

Similarly in the United Kingdom, there is no procedure for registering copyright. Rather, it is automatically afforded to original literary, dramatic, musical, or artistic works, software or other content, broadcasts, etc. If you wanted to show that your script was original in the UK, you might consider using the © symbol, however luckily, it wouldn’t affect your intellectual property rights if you chose not to.

In Canada, whilst it is not a formal requirement to register your work for copyright protection, it is offered. Upon registration in Canada, which attract a fee of $50.00 CAD, you receive a Certificate of Registration, which you may use as evidence in a copyright infringement claim.

Lastly, in the United States, you may voluntarily register for copyright protection, and it is a suggestion, as it will allow you to bring a claim to the U.S. Federal Court. In Reed Elsevier, Inc. v Muchnick, it was established that copyright registration is prima facie evidence of the facts contained in that registration. Further, this case established that registration would only allow you to claim statutory damages once the work is published. Basically, if you wrote a script as legendary as Titanic, you would want to obtain copyright protection in the US because once it is published for the world, you might be entitled to more damages in the event thieves try to steal your idea.

Obviously, there are hundreds of other countries with their own process for obtaining copyright protection, but we have only chosen the most inquired about. Whether you are a scriptwriter, an author or photographer, your copyright is important. Our solicitors at IP Partnership are experts in intellectual property and can assist you with any concerns regarding copyright, trademarking or any other commercial matter you may have.

Alize Shaffer