Many artists operate under the mistaken belief that unless the copyright symbol © appears next to the title of their work, then their novels, screenplays, lyrics, poems, manuscripts and other assorted jottings aren’t protected by the copyright laws. Fortunately, this assumption — while historically accurate — no longer holds true today. Under the copyright laws that were in effect before 1978, a work that was published without copyright notice automatically became part of the public domain. This rule was repealed, and copyright notice is not necessary for works first published after March 1, 1989. What you wrote last week is yours, and no one can use your work without permission (with some notable exceptions for sampling, fair comment, and parody). While different countries have different laws detailing what is necessary for a valid copyright, how long a copyright lasts, and who retains the copyright after an author’s death, in the United States the rule is relatively simple: what you wrote yesterday is yours today, yours tomorrow, and yours for 70 years after your demise.
I am a commercial litigator and intellectual property lawyer in Orange County. Although my practice encompasses a wide variety of business disputes, I have a particular fondness for, and am prone to wax philosophical on, the subjects of copyright and trademark infringement in music, literature, art, and film.