top of page


The holder of a copyright controls the right to copy the underlying protected material.  Copyrighted works may not be reproduced without permission.  Permission is granted via a license.  As such, a properly registered copyright is critical to creators. 


Many other works qualify for copyright, but some major examples are writings, recordings, artwork, and videos.  Registration with the US Copyright Office is essential to maintaining a clear record of who has contributed to the work.


Our competent Maryland copyright lawyers can help you determine whether your work is suitable for copyright protection.

Maryland DC Copyright Attorneys

We can help you rest easy with maximum copyright protection. Feel free to choose from either of these two major sections or to scroll to the discussion below.

DMV Music Lawyers


This discussion provides a general overview of copyright laws in the United States, specifically with respect to the Copyright Act of 1976 and the types of works that are eligible and ineligible for registration with the US Copyright Office. It emphasizes the importance of understanding the criteria for eligibility and ineligibility, as well as the penalties for copyright infringement of registered works and the role an experienced Maryland copyright lawyer plays in successful registration, protection, and enforcement of rights.


What is a Copyright?


A copyright is a form of intellectual property, owned by a creator or someone who has been assigned the right, which is an exclusive right to copy, print, publish, record, perform, film, or to otherwise exploit the work in any way. Due to a need to better protect owners of copyrights and to define the expiration of such rights, the federal government elected to sign the Act into law.

US copyright laws, specifically governed by Title 17 of the United States Code (Copyrights), are primarily established in the Copyright Act of 1976.

Pursuant to the Act, a copyright exists anytime a protected work is fixed in a tangible medium. This includes writing on paper, saving on a computer or phone, taking a picture, or recording a film or song. Copyright typically lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years. Hiring a competent copyright lawyer is a major factor in successful copyright protection.


Benefits of the Act


The Act provides for a federal copyright registry, penalties for infringers, and other benefits for copyright owners. Although, as we discussed above, a copyright exists once an idea becomes fixed in a tangible medium, the benefit of registration is inclusion in an independent record of ownership, which is maintained by the federal government. This is in contrast to personal claims of authorship, which may be difficult to independently verify or sufficient corroborate. Similarly, mailing a copy of your work to yourself does little prove that you in fact are the original author. An experienced copyright lawyer can help you understand the benefits of federal copyright registration.





The Copyright Act governs the protection of copyrights and establishes the eligibility criteria for federal copyright protection. It explains that certain types of works, such as typefaces or variations of typographic ornamentation, cannot be registered for copyright protection. However, it clarifies that this does not apply to the underlying software or computer code used to create the typeface. This is important when attempting to register fonts, which are eligible for protection, and logos, which are generally not eligible. A competent Maryland or DC copyright attorney can help you determine whether your work is eligible for copyright protection.


The Act further explains that all works created on or after January 1, 1978, whether published or unpublished, are eligible for copyright protection in the United States. Eligibility is based on the date of creation and not on the date of publication. The Act also sets specific conditions for group registration of unpublished works, such as ensuring that none of the works in the group have been previously published and that there is commonality in authorship of the works registered as a group. These considerations are especially important when pursuing copyright infringement claims as group registrations are entitled to only one statutory fee for the entire group of works. A qualified copyright law firm can advise you on the best method of copyright registration to provide you with maximum copyright protection.


Understanding copyright law, eligibility criteria, and the penalties for copyright infringement is crucial for creators. By registering their works with the US Copyright Office, individuals can establish an independent record of ownership, enforce legal rights, and seek remedies in case of infringement. Proving copyright infringement is a complicated process, which often requires the engagement of expert witnesses amongst other techniques to establish one work as a derivative of the other and to assess the amount of damage caused by the infringement. An experienced Maryland or DC copyright lawyer can help you navigate the copyright infringement lawsuit process.


Copyrightable Works


Under the Copyright Act, the US Copyright Office provides protection for various types of works of authorship. A competent copyright lawyer can help you determine which category applies to your work. Some of the most common works are listed below.


Eligible Works:

-           Literary Works: This category includes written works such as novels, poems, articles, and computer software code. The expression of ideas, facts, or concepts in a tangible form qualifies for copyright protection.


-           Musical Works: Original musical compositions, including lyrics and musical notations (sheet music), are eligible for copyright registration. It covers both vocal and instrumental compositions.


-           Dramatic Works: Copyright protection can be granted to original plays, scripts, choreography, pantomimes, and other forms of dramatic performances.


-           Artistic Works: Paintings, sculptures, photographs, drawings, and other visual arts fall under this category. Original and creative works of visual arts are eligible for copyright registration.


-           Audiovisual Works: This category includes motion pictures, television shows, documentaries, and other audiovisual presentations. The audiovisual category is about the combination of video and audio elements.


-           Architectural Works: Original architectural designs of buildings and structures can be copyrighted. This protection extends to the overall design, but not to the functional aspects of the building.


-           Sound Recordings: Copyright registration can be obtained for original recordings of sound, including music, speeches, and other audio recordings.


-           Choreographic Works: Original and creative dance routines, ballets, and other choreographic works are eligible for copyright protection.


-           Pictorial, Graphic, and Sculptural Works: This category includes two-dimensional and three-dimensional works such as illustrations, graphic designs, sculptures, and models.


-           Compilations: Collections or selections of pre-existing materials, such as anthologies, databases, and encyclopedias, may be eligible for copyright protection if there is a creative or original act involved, such as in the selection and arrangement of works. The protection is limited only to the creative or original elements of the compilation, therefore the arrangement and the combination of works as a whole is protected without infringing on the rights of others.


Ineligible Works:

While copyright protection extends to a wide range of creative works, there are certain types of works that are generally ineligible for registration with the US Copyright Office.


Here are some examples of ineligible works:


-           Ideas, Concepts, and Facts: Copyright law protects the expression of ideas, concepts, and facts, but it does not protect the ideas, concepts, or facts themselves. These are considered part of the public domain and are freely available for anyone to use or develop further. There are other methods to protect ideas as trade secrets.


-           Titles, Names, and Short Phrases: Copyright does not protect titles, names, or short phrases, as they are typically considered too short or generic to warrant copyright protection. However, they may be eligible for other forms of intellectual property protection, such as trademark or trade name protection.


-           Government Works: Works created by the US federal government are generally not eligible for copyright protection. This includes most works produced by government employees as part of their official duties. These works are typically considered part of the public domain and can be freely used by the public.


-           Works Without Sufficient Originality: Copyright protection requires a certain level of originality. Works that lack originality, such as mere variations of typographic ornamentation or lettering, are generally ineligible for copyright protection. Logos often fail to meet copyright standards due to this restriction, as they are generally considered variations of font unless they are pictorial in nature. Logos are generally eligible for protection as trade marks or service marks.

-           Utilitarian Works: Copyright does not protect works that are primarily functional or utilitarian in nature. This includes designs of purely functional items, such as tools, machines, or furniture, where the design is dictated by its utilitarian purpose rather than creative expression. Some utilitarian works are eligible for patent protection with the United States Patent & Trademark Office.


-           Works in the Public Domain: Works that have entered the public domain, either due to the expiration of copyright protection or by being dedicated to the public domain by the copyright owner, are not eligible for copyright registration and may be used freely by anyone.


It is important to note that while these types of works may not be eligible for copyright protection, they may still be eligible for other forms of intellectual property protection or may be subject to certain rights under other laws. An experienced Maryland intellectual property lawyer can assist in determining what forms of protection are best for you.


Monetary Penalties


The federal government has outlined specific penalties for copyright infringement of registered works in Section 504 of the Copyright Act. The impact of a copyright infringement lawsuit can be significant. This is helpful to copyright owners as a deterrent to copyright infringement as well as a method of ensuring compensation in the event of infringement.


The court has the discretion to determine the actual amount awarded based on various factors such as the nature and extent of the infringement, the infringer's financial situation, and the deterrent effect of the damages.


The Copyright Act explains that individuals found liable for civil copyright infringement may be ordered to pay either actual damages or statutory damages. Actual damages are calculated based upon the amount of monetary harm suffered, such as proceeds generated by the infringing party in its use of the copyrighted work, lost profits, and licensing fees that would have been earned, whereas the amount of statutory damages is set as a range between $750.00 to $30,000.00 per work infringed. A competent Maryland copyright lawyer can help you maximize your compensation in a copyright infringement lawsuit.


Willful Infringement


If the infringement is proven to be willful, the court may award up to $150,000.00 per work infringed, in addition to reimbursing the prevailing party’s attorney’s fees and court costs. This means that if the copyright owner successfully proves that the infringement was willful, they can recover the costs incurred in hiring legal representation and pursuing the case in court. Awarding attorney's fees and court costs helps to balance the scales and encourage copyright owners to enforce their rights by providing a means to recover the expenses associated with lawsuits.


To prove “willfulness” a plaintiff must prove, by preponderance of the evidence, that the defendant was actually aware of the infringing activity, or that the defendant’s actions were the result of:


-           “Reckless disregard” for the copyright holder’s rights; or

-           “Willful blindness” to the copyright holder’s rights.


Proving willful infringement is a complicated but important element in pursuing copyright infringement claims. A credible Maryland copyright attorney will be a crucial aid in developing your copyright infringement lawsuit.

Injunctive Relief


The Act further explains that copyright infringement can also result in injunctive relief to prevent further infringement, such as a court order not to further infringe the work under the potential penalty of contempt of court. Injunctive relief is a powerful tool for copyright owners to protect their rights and prevent ongoing infringement. It is important to retain a copyright lawyer to highlight the need for an injunction to the court.


Criminal Penalties


The severity of copyright infringement penalties depends on various factors such as the nature of the infringement, the intent of the infringer, and the damages caused to the copyright holder. In addition, to monetary penalties, copyright infringement may result in criminal liability.


If found guilty of criminal copyright infringement, the infringer can face criminal charges, including fines and imprisonment. Criminal charges are typically reserved for cases involving large-scale commercial infringement, piracy, or counterfeiting. The penalties for criminal copyright infringement vary depending on the severity of the offense and can range from fines to substantial prison sentences. A Maryland or DC copyright criminal defense attorney can help you avoid harsh copyright infringement penalties if you have been charged.


Statute of Limitations


Each law is generally subject to a statute of limitations. A statute of limitations sets the deadline for filing a lawsuit in regard to a particular claim. It is a specific number of years during which a claim may be filed. Under the Copyright Act of 1976, the statute of limitations for copyright infringement claims is generally three years from the date the claim accrued. A claim accrues when infringement occurs.


SOL Exceptions


There are exceptions and factors that may change the date of accrual, or extend or shorten the statute of limitations time limit. One factor that may extend the statute of limitations is the discovery rule. If the copyright holder discovers the infringement at a later date, the clock on the statute of limitations may start ticking from that point instead of the initial infringement. This allows copyright holders to pursue claims even if they were unaware of the infringement when it initially occurred. The law considers those who routinely protect their copyrights through litigation to be “seasoned litigators”. Seasoned litigators must be careful to file within the 3 year limit as courts may not apply the discovery rule protections to them.


Unregistered Works


It is important to note that a copyright owner who has not registered the work, has a period of 3 months from the date of discovery to register the copyright with the US Copyright Office in order to enjoy the benefits of statutory damages.


Continuing Infringement


Another exception is the continuing infringement doctrine. In cases of ongoing or continuous infringement, the statute of limitations may be extended. This applies to situations where the infringing activity is ongoing, such as in the case of ongoing music infringement where royalties are still being earned. In such cases, the statute of limitations may begin from the last act of infringement, allowing the copyright holder to recover royalties for infringement that occurred within the six-year period prior to filing the claim.






The statute of limitations may be shortened in certain circumstances. For instance, if the copyright holder fails to diligently pursue their claim, they may be barred from bringing legal action after a shorter period of time. Courts may also consider equitable doctrines like laches, which takes into account the copyright holder's delay in asserting their rights and the prejudice it may cause to the alleged infringer. In cases where an unreasonable delay has occurred, the statute of limitations may be shortened. This bars copyright owners from intentionally delaying filing lawsuits in order to increase the amount of damages they can receive from infringers. Undue delays may limit plaintiff’s recoveries to royalties for past infringement that occurred less than three years before filing the claim.


Laches defenses attack the reasonableness of the delay in initiating legal action. Factors such as the length of the delay, the reasons for the delay, and the prejudice suffered by the defendant are taken into consideration. If the court finds that the delay was unreasonable and has prejudiced the defendant, it can result in a successful laches defense and significantly less compensation owned to copyright owners.


However, it is important to note that laches is not an automatic defense for the defendant. The burden lies on the defendant to prove both unreasonable delay and prejudice. Additionally, laches is not applicable in all copyright infringement cases. It is mainly used when a plaintiff seeks to recover royalties for ongoing infringement that began outside the three-year statute of limitations.


In conclusion, while the general statute of limitations for copyright infringement claims under the Copyright Act of 1976 is three years, exceptions and factors can extend or shorten this time limit. The discovery rule and continuing infringement doctrine may extend the statute of limitations, allowing copyright holders to pursue claims for ongoing infringement. Conversely, failure to diligently pursue a claim or unjustifiable delay may result in a shortened statute of limitations. A competent copyright attorney can assist you in protecting your work in order to preserve your right to file a copyright claim within the statute of limitations.

Fair Use


The Copyright Act outlines the rights and limitations for creators and the duration of copyright protection. The main purpose of copyright law in the United States is to grant monopoly protection for "original works of authorship." This protection encourages creativity, art, and culture within the country, ensuring that creators have exclusive control over their works and can financially benefit from their creations.


The Copyright Act of 1976 sets forth the duration of copyright protection for works created on or after January 1, 1978. According to the current law, the copyright term extends for the life of the author plus 70 years after the author's death. This means that the rights to a copyrighted work generally expire seventy years after the death of the author. However, there are exceptions and additional factors that may affect the duration of copyright protection.


Fair use is one of the important concepts related to copyright law. Fair use allows for the limited use of copyrighted material without the need for permission from the copyright holder. It is a crucial aspect of US copyright laws that allows for the use of copyrighted material in certain circumstances.


Fair use is proper in instances such as:

-           Commentary

-           Criticism

-           Parody

-           News Reporting

-           Teaching


-           Scholarship

-           Research


Fair use is codified in Section 107 of the US Copyright Act. The fair use exception permits the use of a work without permission, but only to the extent that is necessary for the intended purpose. Using an entire copyrighted work without authorization is unlikely to qualify as fair use and may be considered copyright infringement.


Although commercial benefit may occur, financial gain must not be the primary purpose of the use of the copyrighted material. It is wise to consult an experienced Maryland copyright lawyer to help you understand whether your use of copyrighted material is lawful as fair use.


Balancing Test

Fair use is a balancing test used to determine whether the use of copyrighted material is fair or infringing. When analyzing fair use, four factors are taken into consideration:


-           Purpose and character of the use: This factor examines whether the use is transformative, meaning that it adds something new or provides a different purpose from the original work. Transformative uses, such as commentary, criticism, or parody, are more likely to be considered fair use. While parody may be recognized as fair use, satire is not.


-           Nature of the copyrighted work: This factor evaluates the nature of the copyrighted work itself. Generally, factual and non-fiction works are more susceptible to fair use than highly creative or fictional works.


-           Amount and substantiality of the portion used: The extent of the copyrighted material used is significant in determining fair use. Using a small portion of the work, particularly if it is not the heart of the original, is more likely to be considered fair use. Furthermore, the importance of the copyrighted material within the new work, as well as its impact on the overall work vs the impact of original contributions is determinative.


-           Effect on the potential market: This factor analyzes the potential impact of the use on the market value of the original work. If the use is unlikely to substitute the original work or harm its market, it is more likely to be considered fair use. However, if the use is likely to replace the demand for the original work a fair use defense may fail.


These four factors are considered together, and no single factor is determinative. Courts weigh each factor based on the specific circumstances of the case to determine whether fair use applies. An experienced Maryland or DC copyright attorney can help you argue your fair use defense for maximum protection against copyright infringement claims.


Other Copyright Infringement Defenses


In addition to laches and fair use, there are several other defenses available in cases of copyright infringement. Many of these defenses aim to challenge the validity of the copyright, the ownership of the copyrighted material, or the application of copyright law itself.


Some of the most common defenses include:


-           Statute of Limitations: Every claim of copyright infringement has a statute of limitations, which sets a time limit for filing a lawsuit. If the plaintiff fails to file a lawsuit within the specified time frame, the defendant can invoke the defense of statute of limitations to have the claim dismissed.


-           Public Domain: Works that are in the public domain can be used freely without permission or attribution since they are not protected by copyright. If the allegedly infringed work is in the public domain, the defendant can argue that their use falls outside the realm of copyright protection. Anyone may use a public domain work.


-           First Sale Doctrine: This doctrine allows individuals who legally acquire a copyrighted work to sell, lend, or otherwise dispose of that specific copy without seeking permission from the copyright owner. For example, you may buy and sell a painting or a beat to a collector or recording artist without permission from the original copyright holder if you have legally acquired the copyright.


-           De Minimis Use: This defense applies when the use of copyrighted material is so minimal or insignificant that it does not constitute copyright infringement.


-           Licensing Agreements: If an individual has obtained a license or permission from the copyright owner to use the copyrighted material, it serves as a strong defense against claims of infringement unless the license holder has exceeded the scope of rights and the power conferred in the license. This defense requires providing evidence, such as a written agreement or communication, demonstrating that the use of the copyrighted material was authorized.


-           Lack of Originality: If the alleged infringed work lacks originality or is otherwise not eligible for copyright protection, the deficiency may serve as a defense against copyright infringement. Copyright law protects original works of authorship, meaning they must possess creativity. If the allegedly infringed work is deemed to be unoriginal or lacking creative expression, it may not be eligible for copyright protection, and the infringement claim may be dismissed. Originality is an important component of copyright infringement lawsuits, which is often contested using prior art reports to suggest that the both the plaintiff’s and the defendant’s works are based on the general body of art available to the public prior to either of their creation – rendering each work therefore unable to infringe upon the other work as both fail to be “original works of authorship”.


-           Independent Creation: This defense asserts that the alleged infringer independently created the work in question without any access to the copyrighted material. If it can be proven that the similar work was created separately and without copying from the copyrighted material, the claim of infringement may fail. Access is a crucial aspect of copyright claims, especially music copyright claims (where record labels typically attempt to claim that the infringing work was independently created due to lack of proof of access by the artist, songwriter, or producer).




It is important to note that each case of copyright infringement is unique and the defenses available may vary depending on the specific circumstances. It is important to retain competent copyright lawyers as the determination of fair use and other defenses ultimately lies with the court, which evaluates the facts and arguments presented in each case.

Infringement Penalties

Hire A Maryland DC Copyright Attorney



Silver Spring

1110 Bonifant Street

Suite 210-A
Silver Spring, MD 20910

Ellicott City

8407 Main Street

Ellicott City, MD 21043



1900 L St NW

Suite 600

Washington, DC 20036






  • Youtube
  • Instagram
  • LinkedIn

Thanks for submitting!


Call us at 844-455-2637 for a free consultation!

Pausing While Typing


bottom of page