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Intellectual Property and Copyright Basics

csa_marvin on 08/19/2014 14:15

If someone on MOC Shop is infringing upon your intellectual property, you must submit a Notice Regarding Claims of IP Infringement as per the MOC Shop Terms of Service in order for BrickLink to take appropriate actions regarding the matter.

This entry contains basic information on questions designers may have about copyright and intellectual property:

Definition of an intellectual property, copyright, and trademark

Intellectual property is the term used to refer to commercially valuable creations of the mind. Intellectual property is protected either by copyrights, trademarks, or patents. A copyright may protect creative expression such as a book or a design of a product. A trademark may protect a word, logo, symbol, or design that identifies the creator of a product. A patent may protect new technological inventions or discoveries.

Rights of a Copyright Owner

Generally, the owner of a US copyright has the exclusive right to and to authorize others to:

  • Reproduce the work;
  • Prepare “derivative” works based on the work;
  • Distribute copies of the work;
  • Display the work publicly, in the case of visual works.

Protection of a Copyright

U.S. Copyright protects the way things are expressed such as any pictorial, graphic, or sculptural authorship. Copyright, however, does not protect ideas, facts, systems, titles, names, familiar symbols or designs, or mere listings of parts or contents. Ideas are generally free to copy and the line between an idea (unprotectable via copyright) and expression (protectable via copyright) may be difficult to draw. U.S. copyright protection does not preclude another author from creating independently authored yet identical works. Designers may be inspired by other creations and the world around them. U.S. copyright does not protect works that are too old, and therefore have fallen into the public domain.

Gaining a Copyright

In the United States, copyright protection automatically exists from the moment the work is created. However, it is suggested to register your work with the U.S. copyright office, preferably within three months of publication (posting an image on the Internet may constitute publication). Electronic U.S. copyright registration currently costs $35 (fees are subject to change), consists of one form and requires zero lawyers. The current forms are found for free on the U.S. Copyright website,

Registering Your Copyright

Registering your work will come in handy in any case of court actions. In other words, if you register for copyright before your work has been on the Internet for three months and someone infringes, it may be easier to prove that you’ve been harmed. If you register within the three-month window, you may be entitled to statutory damages and attorney fees.

Owning a Copyright

You might not be the owner of your copyright. If you prepare a work made for hire, your employer might be the author of the work. Also, if you prepare a custom commissioned work for certain uses and you expressly agree in a signed written document, the work may be considered a work made for hire. In such cases, your employer or the person who commissioned the work might be entitled to the copyright rights. The authors of a joint work are co-owners of the copyright in the work unless there is an agreement to the contrary.

Marking Your Copyright

A copyright notice is meant to inform others of copyright ownership. You may place a copyright notice at the bottom of your item description or photo even if your work is not registered with the U.S. copyright office. In the United States, it is not necessary to mark your piece as being copyrighted, although it is suggested. However, just because a work does not have a copyright marking or copyright notice does not necessarily mean it is free to use without obtaining prior permission. A copyright notice generally consists of the word “copyright” or the symbol “©” and the name of the copyright owner, and the year of first publication. For example, ©2014 Brick D. Link.

Allowing Others to Use

The owner of a copyright has the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, perform, publicly display and make a derivative work. The copyright owner may enter into an agreement with another individual and grant this person one or more of these rights. It’s up to the two parties to agree upon the details, for example, what rights to grant, what timeline is appropriate, and what, if any, fees to charge.

Selling Copyrighted Work

When you sell or give away a copyrighted item, unless you have a contract specifying a transfer of one or more of your copyright rights, you are only selling the physical item, not any of your rights. However, according to the first sale doctrine, the buyer of a lawfully made item may re-sell that item or otherwise dispose of the possession of that copy without the express permission of the copyright holder.

Reporting Infringement

If you see infringement of your copyrights or other intellectual property rights on BrickLink, you may contact the other person to try to work it out between the two of you first. If that does not work, you may provide BrickLink with the information specified in BrickLink's policy for submitting a Notice Regarding Claims of IP Infringement. However, BrickLink cannot provide you with legal advice or legal representation. Please speak with a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction for legal advice.

International Copyright Laws

The information above relates to the law of the United States. However, the United States has copyright relations with most, but not all, countries throughout the world, and as a result of these agreements, the U.S. honors certain other copyrights. For a listing of countries and the nature of their copyright relations with the United States, visit and see Circular 38a, International Copyright Relations of the United States.

Need to know more?

For more information, visit and You can also search for or post a Question in the Help Center, or email us at