What is Copyright?
Did you know that whenever you write a poem or story or even a paper for your class, or a drawing or other artwork, you automatically own the copyright to it. Copyright is a form of protection given to the authors or creators of "original works of authorship," including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic and other intellectual works. What that means is that, as the author of the work, you alone have the right to do any of the following or to let others do any of the following:
- make copies of your work;
- distribute copies of your work;
- perform your work publicly (such as for plays, film, dances or music);
- display your work publicly (such as for artwork, or stills from audiovisual works, or any material used on the Internet or television); and
- make “derivative works ” (including making modifications, adaptations or other new uses of a work, or translating the work to another media).
In general, it is illegal for anyone to do any of the things listed above with a work created by you without your permission. but there are some exceptions and limitations to your rights as a copyright holder. One major limitation is the doctrine of “Fair Use ,” discussed below.
Copyright law in the United States is embodied in federal laws enacted by Congress. The current copyright law, the Copyright Act of 1976 (as amended), is codified in Title 17 of the U.S. Code.
Why Should I Care About Copyright?
When you create something, aren't you proud of your work when you spend a lot of time and energy creating it? How about that social studies report you finally finished, that poem for your Mom that made her smile, that cool logo you came up with for your soccer team, the great song you wrote for the school play, or even your journal that you don't "have" to do but you enjoy it so much and it's special to you? Well, all these are your creations and you'd probably be pretty upset if someone just copied any of them without your permission. That's where copyright comes in. Copyright law gives you a set of rights that prevents other people from copying your work and doing other things with your work that you may not like.
As the creator of your work, you should have the right to control what people can and cannot do with your work. In the United States - one of the world's biggest sources of creative works like movies, television shows, books, computer games, etc. -- this right to control your work has actually turned into big business, but that's what allows all the creative people around us to get paid for coming up with all the wonderful songs, shows, books, painting, movies and other great works that we enjoy. Just think of all the cool songs your favorite band wrote, the great books you loved reading, the plays, movies and television shows you love to watch again and again. These talented musicians, authors, illustrators and screenwriters deserve our respect and appreciation - and they deserve to make a living from the hard work they put into their creative works -- otherwise most of them wouldn't be able to produce as many (or any) of the songs, books, plays, movies and TV shows that you like. That's what copyright is all about. It reflects our appreciation for all the hard work that goes into creating "original works of authorship" and respect for the right of the creator of that work to control what people can and cannot do with it.
Which Works Are Protected by Copyright?
Copyright protects "original works of authorship" that are Fixed in "a tangible form of expression." The fixed form does not have to be directly perceptible so long as it can be communicated with the aid of a machine or other device. Copyrightable works fall into the following categories:
- motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
- architectural works.
Which Works Are Not Protected by Copyright?
Not everything is protected by copyright law. The following are categories of things not protected:
- Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devices, (but
written or recorded descriptions, explanations, or illustrations of such things are protected copyright);
- Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; mere listings of ingredients or contents (but some titles and words might be protected under trademark law if their use is associated with a particular product or service);
- Works that are not fixed in a tangible form of expression, such as an improvised speech or performance that is not written down or otherwise recorded;
- Works consisting entirely of information that is commonly available and contains no originality (for example, standard calendars, standard measures and rulers, lists or tables compiled from public documents or other common sources); and
- Works by the US government.
Who Owns the Copyright in a Work?
The copyright in a work of authorship immediately becomes the property of the author who created it at the moment it is put into fixed form. No one but the author can claim copyright to the work, unless the author grants rights to others in a written agreement (such as to the author's publisher or record company). Usually, you can tell who the author of a work is -- the person who created it. But sometimes, it is not quite that easy.
Works made for hire
Works made for hire (a work "made for hire " by an employee and certain kinds of commissioned works) are considered to be authored by the employer or the commissioning party. So if your boss asks you to write a report as part of your job, the company you work for gets all the copyright protection that would otherwise have been available to you.
Two or more authors
When two or more people create a work together, each of them is an author: they are called "joint authors" and the work is called a "joint work." Joint authors are co-owners of the copyright in the work, unless they agree otherwise. For instance is your class paints a big painting or mural together, each of the students who painted part of it is a joint author and a copyright owner.
What is Copyright Infringement?
Anyone who exploits any of the exclusive rights of copyright without the copyright owner's permission commits copyright infringement. If a lawsuit is brought in a court, the infringer will have to pay the copyright owner the amount of money the infringer made from using the work or that the owner would have made if the infringement had not happened. If the copyright is registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, the infringer may also have to pay copyright owner what's called statutory damages -- an amount set by the judge that will usually be higher. In addition, an infringer may be found guilty on criminal charges and have to pay criminal penalties. Moreover, the infringer will also be stopped from making any further use of the work.
In order for a court to determine that a copyright in a work has been infringed upon it must find that: (1) the infringing work is "substantially similar" to the copyrighted work, and (2) the alleged infringer had access to the copyrighted work -- meaning they actually saw it or heard it. There are no clear rules for deciding when "substantial similarity" exists between two works. Courts look for similarities in appearance, sound, words, format, layout, sequence, and other elements of the works.
The exclusive rights of the copyright owner are not unlimited. The copyright law establishes some limitations on these rights. One of the most important limitations on the exclusive rights is the doctrine of "Fair Use." The "Fair Use" doctrine allows limited copying of copyrighted works for educational and research purposes. The copyright law provides that reproduction "for purposes such as criticism, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research" is not an infringement of copyright. The law lists the following factors, which courts must consider together in determining whether a particular use of a copyrighted work is a permitted "Fair Use," or is instead an infringement of the copyright:
the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes: the noncommercial educational use is more likely to be a fair use;