Copyright Laws for Print-Based Material & Digital Photos

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Copyright laws protect the rights of writers, painters, photographers, sculptors, architects and others, collectively known in the law as authors. Business materials such as brochures, product flyers, catalogs, product photographs and reports are protected by copyright. Once you create and copyright a work, you have an exclusive right to copy, alter, sell or otherwise use the work. Copyright applies to printed materials as well as works such as photographs that exist in digital form.

Background on Copyright Law

Copyright was established by the founding fathers in the original language of the Constitution. Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress the authority to promote both science and the arts by granting inventors and authors "exclusive right" to their inventions and their writings. Although the Constitution only mentions protection for written material, subsequent law has clarified that any creative work in a tangible form is protected by copyright.

Congress has since enacted more than 50 federal laws and amendments to define, clarify and revise the way copyright protection works in the United States. These acts range from the Copyright Act of 1790 to the Copyright Cleanup, Clarification and Corrections Act of 2010. The laws collectively describe the types of works covered by copyright, the protections offered and the process for granting copyright.

Minimal Requirements for Copyright

At one time, a business owner who wanted to copyright printed matter or a photograph was subject to stringent requirements regarding publishing the material, registering with the Copyright Office, and placing a notice of copyright on the material itself. These requirements have all been eliminated by changes in copyright law. You only have to create your material in tangible form in order for the material to immediately be protected by copyright.

Printed Materials

Creative works in print form, such as a product flyer or a design printed on fabric, are protected by copyright. Protection is immediate as soon as the printed work is created. You do not need to register the work, apply a copyright notice or take any other steps to receive copyright protection. Conversely, you cannot use printed materials from another source without the copyright-owners permission.

Digital Photos

Digital files of creative works, including digital photographs, are also protected by copyright as soon as the file is created. Your company website and all photographs and content on the site are protected by copyright as soon as the site is created. You do not have to do anything else to insure copyright of your digital materials. If you want to use a digital photo that you did not create, you should obtain the permission of the copyright owner of the photo.

Copyright Notice

You can attach a copyright notice to your printed material, digital photo or website. A notice lends emphasis to the protected status of the work, even though the notice itself is not a requirement of such protection. A copyright notice usually begins with the copyright symbol, a C in a circle, or with the word "Copyright," followed by the date the work was created and the name of the author.


Copyright does not generally apply to very short works or to simple lists of facts. The U.S. Copyright Office specifically notes that names, titles, slogans and short phrases are not eligible for copyright protection. Your company name, for instance, is not protected by copyright though it may be covered by other types of protection, such as trademark.

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