If you have writing, music, art, photography or film that you want to protect so that others cannot claim that they created it, you need to get a copyright. Copyright law protects intellectual property, much of which is related to the arts, from being used by others and claimed as their own. People can then do a patent search or a copyright search to see if the property has been protected under the law.
Copyright law is a bit different than patent law. The copyright is good for 120 years or 80 years after the death of whoever files for the original copyright, whichever is longer. This is meant to protect the person who creates the property and their heirs, but still allow for the public to be able to use the property for their enjoyment. Copyright law is subject to change. As it stands now, everything that was copyrighted before 1923 has fallen into the public domain. Other intellectual property, especially music, films and some television shows that were copyrighted between 1930 and 1963 have fallen into the pubic domain after the copyright law was change in the early 1980s. Many people did not understand the change and did not apply for a copyright renewal. The intellectual property then fell into the public domain.
You can do a patent search if you want to know if something is protected under copyright or if it is in the public domain. Once intellectual property falls into the public domain, it cannot be copyrighted as is – it belongs to the public. People who want to use public domain materials, especially film, must be careful that there is not an image or likeness copyright. Any music that is in the film may be protected by copyright as well, so this must also be considered if you are planning on using works in the public domain.
The public can do a patent search and find works in the public domain that are not subject to copyright and then use them for their own benefit. They cannot copyright these works and prevent anyone else from using them. You can copyright just about anything that you write, create, photograph or compose, with the exception of titles. If you do a patent search, you will see many of the same titles for films, books and music. This is because titles are not subject to copyright law.
As is the case with patent law, you cannot copyright an idea. You have to have something tangible in order to seek copyright protection. Once you have the product, you can then do a patent search to make sure no one else has protected it. A patent search can easily be conducted at the US Copyright Office. You can also perform a patent search at Patent Docs. You will want to be sure, when doing a patent search, that the information that you receive is accurate.
If the patent search turns up that the product is not under copyright protection and is not in the public domain, then you can copyright it for your own use. You can retain full enjoyment of the intellectual property once you have obtained a copyright for the works. You can retain the services of an intellectual property attorney at any time during the process.