Copyright law protects original works from unlicensed copying or reproduction. The copyright belongs to the creator of the work and exists from the moment the work is produced in a fixed form. Copyright extends to both pictorial and written expressions and therefore includes both the writing and the pictures contained in comics. Depending on the nature and style of the comic, it can be classified as either a work of visual arts or a literary work. The Copyright Act can be found in Title 17 of the United States Code.
Section 102 of the Copyright Act provides that copyright protection exists in original works fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright does not extend to ideas or concepts but only to the physical form of the captions and stories contained within a comic book. The creator of the work owns the copyright and has an exclusive right to copy, sell or distribute the work. If a comic is created by more than one person, they jointly own the copyright, unless they agree otherwise.
Duration of Copyright
The creator of a comic has copyright protection for the duration of his life plus an additional 70 years. After that time, the comic becomes part of the public domain and may be copied or reproduced without breaching copyright law.
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Copyright exists from the moment a work is created, and it is not necessary to register the work to benefit from the protection of copyright law. For evidential purposes, it can be a good idea to register the work so that a record exists. If you want to register a comic book, contact the United States Copyright Office and apply for registration either online or using paper forms. Online registration is quicker and cheaper.
Work for Hire
Although copyright law provides that the creator of a work owns the copyright, this does not apply to employees or individuals who have been commissioned to work for someone else, according to Section 201 of the Copyright Act. If, therefore, you create a comic while working for a publisher, the copyright belongs to your employer, unless your employment contract states otherwise.
Section 107 of the Copyright Act allows an individual or organization to copy or reproduce any copyright work, including comics, for the purpose of criticism, comment, teaching, news reporting or scholarship. Factors to be considered in determining fair use include whether it is for commercial or non-profit purposes and the effect on the market for the copyrighted work.
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