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What is a Copyright?
A copyright protects the "expression" of an idea--literary, artistic, commercial or otherwise. To qualify for a copyright, the idea must be recorded upon a tangible medium. A copyright protects works that are literary, musical, dramatic, choreographic, graphic, audiovisual, architectural and sound recordings. The author of the work has exclusive rights upon recording or documenting it in a tangible medium. The Copyright Act grants copyright owners exclusive rights in five categories: reproduction, adaptation, public distribution, public performance and public display.
What can be protected?
Copyright protects only the actual expression, not the underlying idea or facts since concepts, ideas, and thoughts themselves are accessible to all. Copyright protection lasts for the author's lifetime plus 70 years after the author's death. However, if they copyright is a "work made for hire," the copyright last for the shorter of the term of 95 years from date of publication or 120 years from the date of creation.
What is a License?
A license is a written agreement that grants rights, usually in intellectual property. So, patents (including design patents), trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets may be licensed. Sometimes, the license is a stand-alone agreement, while at other times a license is incorporated in another agreement, such as a franchise agreement or merger, for example. One of the great things about a license is that it can define and divide rights almost any way you can imagine--in time, by geography, by market segment, by the type of product incorporating the license, and in a host of other ways.
The Limits of Licenses
However, licenses, because of their complexity, can be the playground of the wicked. Unscrupulous persons can use the complex language and interpretation rules of a license to cheat the naive of rights and/or money. For example, in many states licenses come with an "implied warranty of fitness" -- a fancy way of stating that the thing your licensing will work (imagine that!). However, many licenses, particularly in the software industry, specifically exclude this warranty. Not only do we know these tricks, we also know standard license rates and have designed license programs and licenses for major Universities, small businesses, corporations, and individual inventors.
What is a Trademark?
A trademark or service mark can be a word, phrase, logo, design or combination of these that identifies the source of origin of goods or services. A trademark exists in each state at common law, in most states through state registrations, and federally through USPTO registration. Registering your business as a corporation or other entity with a secretary of state confers NO federal or state rights to a trademark.
Anyone who claims rights in a mark should use the symbols TM (trademark for goods) or SM (service mark for services) to alert the public to their claim to an unregistered mark. You do not need to have a trademark application filed or a registered trademark to use these symbols. The registration symbol (R) may only be used when the mark is actually federally registered with the USPTO.
What is Open Source?
Open Source software dominates the libraries of many developers and coders, and may even be incorporated in proprietary development packages, such as .NET. But, what is open source, and why is it important to manage the use of open source software? By definition, open source software is software code that meets certain definitions articulated by a standards society, The Open Source Initiative. While the Open Source Definition flows from the older Free Software Initiative, neither open source software nor "freeware" is without cost. Indeed, the cost could be very high.
Types of Open Source
The most commonly used open source programs are governed by licenses called "business friendly," loosely meaning that the use of the code merely requires some degree of attribution, and programs incorporating the open source code may be licensed commercially for money. However, some open source programs/modules/etc are governed by "business aggressive" licenses. These may forbid the code from being used commercially (with various penalties for violations), require that programs (meaning your program) incorporating their code also be likewise open source, or even that if your code incorporates the open source code, the creator of that original open source code obtains the rights to your code. The lesson: read the license, and ask an attorney what using that code means to you.