Copyright Attorney Career Profile

Copyright attorneys work in one of the most contentious and difficult areas of modern law. The copyright laws relate to national law, international copyright conventions (treaties) and may involve court cases lasting several years. Copyright is considered "intellectual property" (IP) and it can be worth enormous amounts of money. One of the major problems is establishing the origin and ownership of designs, trademarks and media materials like music and artwork.

Fundamental Issues in Copyright Law

The main legal situations in copyright law cases are:

  • Copyright infringement: This means that a design or product has copied another, either in whole or in part.
  • Copyright ownership: Contesting claims for ownership of copyright are primarily based on prior ownership by a party.
  • Public domain issues: "Public domain" materials are those deemed no longer in copyright.  A party may claim that there is no owner of the original design. 
  • Trademarks patents and designs: Although covered by specific laws and statutorily created ownership, these materials are essentially within the bandwidth of copyright law, and disputes are based on the same principles. This is a specialist area of the copyright attorney's generic work.  

The Work Environment

Copyright attorneys work in the middle of what is effectively a global intellectual property war zone. Copyright infringement is a major industrial issue across all media. The high levels of plagiarism on the internet and elsewhere have created serious issues for content producers, and their outlets. Most producers need to make major efforts to defend their products when cases of infringement occur. 

In this environment, the copyright attorney may have to deal with very worried or angry defendants and plaintiffs. Artists, musicians and other people whose personal interests and professional reputations are at stake over copyright can be difficult clients. In the corporate area, the stakes are financial, and may be ruinously high. This is another high pressure zone of the copyright attorney's brief, and in some situations court cases are extremely acrimonious. 

Primary Tasks

In  the course of preparation of a case needs to do extensive research of all relevant information. This involves getting information from sources other than the client, and requires detailed examination of any issues in which original copyright was claimed.

Also, the attorney must establish verification of ownership of copyright. This is prima facie evidence which proves ownership of intellectual property. Under international law, "tangible form"  is the benchmark for actual creation of copyright under the Madrid Agreement and Berne Convention. In the US, formal registration of copyright with the US Patent Office is required to undertake legal procedures.

Salaries and Hours

Legal fees tend to be high. Incomes can range depending on experience and market exposure. Typically, attorneys will charge $100 to $500 per hour for their billing hours. The standard legal practice hours are usually kept, but can often include a significant amount of extra time on preparation and briefings.