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What Is a Copyright Search?

A copyright search is a search that an individual conducts to see if the intellectual property they are planning to create is original. Before a person writes a book or poem, creates a work of art, or records a song, they need to ensure that their work is not a duplicate of an already existing tangible form of expression .

For the most part, the copyright for art is established when the art is created. To further ensure that the work is protected, many artists choose to register their creations to establish copyright protection.

The most extensive database for copyright searches is the Library for Congress Copyright Office. This copyright public records catalog is available online to everyone. The catalog will include information about who owns rights to what intellectual property, and it will show what works are protected are available for public use.

Click here to learn more about copyright searches and research services.

How Copyrights Work

A copyright provides an artist with a set of exclusive rights to the work they have created. Anything an artist makes, whether an author writing a book or a musician recording a song, is considered intellectual property. The original artists have the right to protect their creations.

Copyrights protect original work from:

  • Duplication
  • Alteration
  • Distribution

Some of the different types of work that copyright can protect includes:

  • Paintings
  • Photographs
  • Illustrations
  • Musical compositions
  • Sound recordings
  • Computer programs
  • Books
  • Poems
  • Movies
  • Architecture
  • Blogs

Any of the above creations are considered “original” when created by someone independently without copying anything. According to the Supreme Court, in order for a work to be creative, it must have a “spark” and “modicum” of creativity. Copyrights protect expression, not ideas, concepts, or discoveries.

Some works can be created but are not considered “creative” and therefore are not automatically protected by copyright laws. A few examples include:

  • Titles
  • Names
  • Phrases
  • Slogans
  • Symbols and designs

To protect these works, the creator usually needs to apply for a registered trademark.

What most people don’t realize is that everyone is a copyright owner. The instant that you create something that is a tangible form of expression, you are the owner of it. Under United States copyright laws, owners of original art have the following exclusive rights:

  • The right to reproduce your work
  • Distribute copies of your work by sale, lease, or lending
  • Publicly perform the work
  • Display your work
  • Create more work based on the original
  • Authorize others to share these rights

To learn more about copyrights and what they protect, check out this article .

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How Do I Run a Copyright Search?

Running a copyright search can be complicated and confusing. You must know what you’re looking for, where to look, and how to find it. A great place to start is at the Library for Congress Copyright Office website, which has a searchable database.

Follow these steps to run a copyright search:

  1. Go to the Copyright website: Start your search by going to copyright.gov . On the Copyright homepage, there is an option to search copyright records.
  2. Locate the database: Click the link provided on the homepage that says, “ Search our Copyright Public Records Catalog online here .”
  3. Basic Search: This link will redirect you to the search feature for the catalog. There is an empty field labeled “search for,” where you can type your search.
  4. Choose a method to search by: After typing in your search, choose from the dropdown list of methods that include:
    1. Title
    2. Name
    3. Keyword
    4. Registration number
    5. Document number
    6. Command keyword
  5. Run the search: Click the command “run search” to reveal a list of results. You have the option to choose how many results will show on the page and how the results are sorted.

If you are having difficulties finding the copyright you are looking for, you can choose the “Other Search Options” tab to run a more narrowed and direct search with set limits.

Consider following these tips to make conducting a copyright search more manageable and more productive:

Tip #1: Determine what you are looking for. Your search methods could vary depending on what you are looking for. This is especially true about the date of the work you are trying to locate. All copyright records from 1978 on are recorded in the database on the Copyright Office website. Searching for something before that date may make your search more complicated.

Tip #2: Copyrighted works before 1978. If you already know that the work you are searching for was created before 1978, you shouldn’t waste your time with an online search. When searching copyrights before 1978 you can visit the Library of Congress in Washington DC. Here, a card catalog can be accessed in person. For people in other parts of the country, most public libraries carry a copy of the CCE or Catalog of Copyright Entries.

Tip #3: Narrow your search. Your search methods will differ whether you are trying to identify the actual owner of a work or if you are just trying to see if the work has entered public domain. Any work that was published before 1923 will be in the public domain. Works published between 1923 and 1963 are protected for 28 years if the copyright was not renewed and 95 years if the copyright was renewed. If the work you are looking for was published later than 1923, you can assume it is copyrighted.

Tip #4: Hire a professional to help. Conducting a copyright search on your own can be tedious and confusing. You can contact an intellectual property lawyer to assist you in your search if you are having trouble.

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Checking For Copyrighted Names

It is possible to run a search for the name of a copyrighted piece of work. This can be done through a basic search on the Copyright Public Records Catalog online by selecting “Name” from the “search by” dropdown list.

However, actual names cannot be copyrighted, so there is no need to check for them. To copyright an original work, it must be a creative work or a tangible form of expression . The Supreme Court does not classify names in this protected category.

Names can still be considered intellectual property, and there are other ways that a person can protect their name. If individuals want to have exclusive rights to their name or a slogan, they can submit a trademark application to the United States Patent and Trademark Office. More information about this process can be found on the USPTO website .

If the application is approved, the name or slogan is now protected intellectual property. This gives the owner similar exclusive rights like copyright.

Who Needs a Copyright Search?

A copyright search is needed by anyone who plans to create something tangible and wants to be sure that they are not copying someone else’s work. This can apply to artists, musicians, writers, or any other person who creates a fixed work.

Copyright protection is established as soon as the creative work comes to fruition, and the original artist has exclusive rights to their work. If the work is duplicated, distributed, or altered, the original creator can sue for copyright infringement.

Conducting a copyright search will help you avoid duplicating copyrighted work and save you from a potential lawsuit from the original creator.

Get Help with a Copyright Search

Do you have questions about running a copyright search and want to speak to an expert? Post a project today on ContractsCounsel and receive bids from intellectual property lawyers specializing in copyright laws and copyright searches.

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