Copyright is a form of legal protection granted to creators of original works of authorship, such as literary works, musical works, dramatic works, pantomimes and choreographic works, pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works, motion pictures and other audiovisual works, sound recordings, and architectural works.
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What is A copyright?
Copyright is one of the intellectual property that protects original works of authorship when the author has fixed them in a tangible form. Copyright law covers many types of works, including photographs, illustrations, paintings, books, movies, architectural and musical compositions.
Under U.S copyright law, a work must meet two basic requirements in order to be eligible for copyright protection: originality and fixation.
- Originality: The work must be original, meaning that it is the result of independent creative effort and not copied from another work.
- Fixation: The work must be fixed in a tangible form, meaning that it is recorded or saved in some way, such as written down, recorded, or saved electronically. This means that ideas, concepts, or mere words spoken or thought are not protected by copyright unless they are fixed in a tangible form.
It’s worth noting that while originality and fixation are necessary requirements for a work to be eligible for copyright protection, they are not sufficient on their own. The work also needs to be in a certain category of works like literary, musical, dramatic, and artistic works, sound recordings and architectural works, and others, that are protected under the copyright law. Additionally, it’s important to keep in mind that copyright laws can change, and it’s important to keep up to date with any changes in copyright laws in the jurisdiction where you wish to use the work, and seek legal advise when necessary.
Original works are created independently by humans and have a minimal degree of creativity. Independent creation means you created it without any copying. Some things are not creative. These include titles, names, and short phrases; symbols or designs that are familiar; variations on typographic ornamentation, letters, or coloring; and lists of ingredients and contents. Copyright only protects expression. It does not protect ideas, procedures, or methods, nor systems, processes, concepts, and principles.
When work is captured by an author or under his authority in a sufficiently permanent medium so that it can be perceived, communicated, or reproduced for longer than a brief time, it is considered fixed. A work is considered fixed if it is written down or recorded.
What rights does copyright confer?
Copyright law assures the owners the following exclusive rights:
The rights conferred by copyright include the following:
- The right to reproduce the work: This means that the copyright holder has the exclusive right to make copies of their work, whether in print or digital form.
- The right to distribute the work: This means that the copyright holder has the exclusive right to sell, rent, or otherwise distribute their work.
- The right to perform or display the work publicly: This means that the copyright holder has the exclusive right to perform or display their work in public, including through live performances, broadcasts, or online streaming.
- The right to create derivatives of the work: This means that the copyright holder has the exclusive right to create adaptations, such as translations, musical arrangements, or dramatizations of their work.
- The right to control the use of the work for certain purposes: This means that the copyright holder has the exclusive right to control the use of their work for certain purposes, such as making it available for public performances, or for use in creating merchandise.
- The right to control the digital transmission of the work: This means that the copyright holder has the exclusive right to control the distribution of their work via digital transmission, such as through the internet or mobile networks.
Examples of these right include the following:
- Make copies or phonorecords.
- Create derivative works based on the work.
- Distribute copies and phonorecords to the public through sale or transfer of ownership, rental, lease, lending, or other means.
- Public performance is permitted if the work is literary, musical, dramatic, or choreographic.
- Public display of the work is permitted if it’s a literary, artistic, dramatic, or choreographic piece; a pantomime; or a pictorial or graphic work. This right also applies to individual images in a motion picture or other audiovisual works.
- If the work is a sound record, perform the work publically using digital audio transmission.
- Copyright gives the owner the power to authorize others to exercise these exclusive rights subject to certain limitations.
How long does copyright protection stay?
The length of copyright protection depends on when the work was created and published, and in some cases, who created it. In general, under U.S copyright law, the copyright life of a work is:
- Life of the author plus 70 years after the author’s death for works created on or after January 1, 1978.
- For works created, but not published or registered before January 1, 1978, the copyright endures for the life of the author plus 70 years after the author’s death.
- For works made for hire, and anonymous and pseudonymous works, the copyright endures for 95 years from the date of first publication or 120 years from the date of creation, whichever is shorter.
It’s worth noting that the copyright law is subject to change, and it’s important to check the current copyright law in the jurisdiction where you want to use the work to make sure it’s in public domain.
In addition, it’s important to keep in mind that copyright protection does not last forever and at the end of the copyright term, works enter the public domain, meaning that they can be used freely by anyone without the need for permission or payment to the copyright holder.
What is copyright registration?
Once the original work is fixed, copyright automatically exists. However, a copyright owner may take steps to increase protections. Registering for the work is the most important step. However, registration of work is not mandatory.
For U.S. workers, registration is required to enforce rights and in order to protect copyright rights through litigation. If there is a legal action, copyright owners can seek certain types of monetary damages or attorney fees. Also, timely registration gives the presumption that the information on the registration certificate is correct.
The public also gains value from copyright registration. It allows people to search for copyright ownership information and provides notice that someone has claimed copyright protection. It keeps track of the nation’s creativity.
Registering your copyright is the only way to ensure that you are fully protected from copyright infringement.
It’s done through US Copyright Office in the United States. Fill out the application and pay non-refundable fees. Then, provide the content that you wish to protect. The content will be given as a non-refundable “deposit”, which is the entirety of the work to be copyrighted. It can include all or part of your website.
All works that are included in the deposit are subject to the registered copyright. A certificate of registration will be issued by the US Copyright Office. This is a public record that shows ownership. You can then file an infringement lawsuit in court. Registration is the strongest part of the legal doctrine which defines copyright. It allows for “statutory damages.”
The Copyright Office is the only place where you can register copyright claims in the United States.
What can be copyrighted?
Three elements are required to copyright an item: originality, fixation, and expression. A creative idea must be fixed in some way, such as written on paper or recorded on a tape. This expression refers to the idea that an idea cannot be copyrighted, but only the expression of an idea can. A movie can be copyrighted, but not the idea behind it. To be eligible for a copyright, the work must demonstrate originality. You can copyright a variety of things, including:
- Music work
- Dramatic work
- Pantomime, choreographic work
- Work that is pictorial, graphic, or sculptural
- Motion pictures and audiovisual works
- Sound recordings
- Architectural work
What can’t be copyrighted
Not all types of works are eligible for copyright protection. Under U.S copyright law, certain categories of works are not eligible for copyright protection, including:
- Ideas: Copyright does not protect ideas, concepts, systems, or methods of doing something. Only the expression of an idea, such as a written or recorded description, can be protected by copyright.
- Facts: Copyright does not protect facts, whether they are discovered, invented, or created. However, a work that expresses facts, such as a news article or a research paper, can be protected by copyright.
- Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans: Copyright does not protect short phrases and slogans, such as “Just Do It” or “Eat Fresh”, as they are considered too simple to be original.
- Works in the public domain: Works that are no longer under copyright protection are considered to be in the public domain and can be used freely by anyone without the need for permission or payment to the copyright holder.
- Government works: Works produced by the U.S federal government are not eligible for copyright protection, this includes works such as federal laws, court opinions, and other documents produced by federal agencies.
- Works that lack originality: Works that lack originality, such as a simple compilation of facts, are not eligible for copyright protection.
It’s worth noting that the laws regarding what can’t be copyrighted can vary in different jurisdiction and it’s important to consider the specific laws of the jurisdiction in which you wish to use the work.
Who is the Copyright Owner?
When hiring a contractor to create a work, it is important to ensure that you will own the copyright in the work when the contractor completes it. This can be done by having the contractor sign a contract, also known as a “work for hire” agreement, that clearly states that the contractor will assign the copyright in the work to you when the work is completed.
The “work for hire” agreement should include the following elements:
- A clear statement that the work is being created as a “work for hire” and that the contractor agrees to assign all rights, including the copyright, to the hiring party upon completion of the work.
- A description of the work that is being created, including any specifications or requirements provided by the hiring party.
- A deadline for the completion of the work, and any payment terms for the work, such as a fixed fee or a percentage of the work’s revenue.
- A statement that the contractor represents and warrants that the work is original and does not infringe on any third-party rights.
- Any other terms or conditions that are specific to the project, such as confidentiality or non-disclosure agreements.
It is important to have the contractor sign the agreement before they begin work, so that there is no confusion or misunderstanding regarding the ownership of the copyright in the work. It’s also advisable to have the agreement reviewed by legal professional to ensure that it covers all necessary elements and complies with the laws of the jurisdiction where the work is created.
While the creator retains all rights to the work, if it was performed in a “work-for-hire” setting, an agreement may exist that gives the client ownership.
Your business is entitled to a copyright if you directly employ someone and they create content for your website. Independent contractors, however, are the owners of the material they create. You should have an agreement to retain exclusive rights.
What are the conditions for using works not my own?
When using works that are not your own, it is important to ensure that you have the legal right to do so. There are several conditions that must be met in order to use works that are not your own, including obtaining permission from the copyright holder or determining that the use is considered “fair use” under U.S copyright law.
- Obtaining permission: If the work is still under copyright protection, you will need to obtain permission from the copyright holder to use the work. This can typically be done by purchasing a license or entering into a formal agreement.
- Fair Use: If the use of the work falls under the doctrine of fair use, you may be able to use the work without obtaining permission. Fair use allows for the limited use of copyrighted material without the need for permission from the copyright holder for certain purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. However, it’s important to consider the four factors of fair use before using the work.
- Public Domain: If the work is no longer under copyright protection, it is considered to be in the public domain and can be used freely by anyone without the need for permission or payment to the copyright holder.
- Creative Commons: Some creators may choose to license their work under a Creative Commons license, which allows others to use their work under certain conditions. For example, some Creative Commons licenses allow for non-commercial use, while others allow for commercial use, and others may require attribution.
It’s worth noting that copyright laws and conditions for using works not your own vary in different jurisdiction and it’s important to consider the specific laws of the jurisdiction in which you wish to use the work.
It is important to remember that all of us are copyright users. We are using copyright-protected works when we read, watch movies, listen to or play music, and use software or video games.
Even if you don’t own the work, you may still be able to use it. Apart from buying or licensing or any other way to obtain permission to use it, you can use one of the Copyright Act’s exceptions and limitations or rely upon works in the public domain.
Sections 107-122 of the Copyright Act contain exceptions and limitations. These include fair use, “first sale doctrine”, reproductions by libraries or archives, some performances and displays, and broadcast programming transmissions via cable and satellite.
One can also use works that are in the public domain. Works in the public domain are those that are not protected by copyright (such as facts and discoveries) or works whose terms of protection have expired or were not able to satisfy any formalities.
All U.S. works pre-1926 are currently in the public domain as copyright protection has expired.
Does Copyright Protection Extend Internationally?
Copyright laws vary from country to country and it is important to consider the specific laws of the jurisdiction in which you wish to use a copyrighted work. However, most countries are members of international copyright treaties, such as the Berne Convention and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Copyright Treaty, which provide a minimum level of copyright protection for works created by citizens of member countries.
Under the Berne Convention, copyright protection is automatically extended to works created by citizens of member countries, without the need to register the work or include a copyright notice. This means that if a work is protected by copyright in one member country, it is also protected in all other member countries.
Additionally, the WIPO Copyright Treaty extends copyright protection to certain types of works, such as computer programs and sound recordings, that were not previously protected under the Berne Convention.
It’s worth noting that while copyright laws extend internationally, the copyright term may vary from country to country and it’s important to keep in mind the copyright laws of the country where the work will be used.
Also, copyright laws can change, and it’s important to keep up to date with any changes in copyright laws in the jurisdiction where you wish to use the work, and seek legal advise when necessary.
While copyright is not guaranteed worldwide protection, treaties governing copyright provide protection for countries that have signed them. Canada and the United States have copyright relations.