Copyrights Law

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The Scope of Copyright

Copyrights LawThe copyright laws do exactly as the word suggests—they give you the right, if you hold a copyright, to exercise control over any copy (including use) or your protected work. The American copyright laws are all based on federal statutes, pursuant to the power granted to Congress in Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 of the U.S. Constitution. Under the Copyright Act, “original works of authorship” are entitled to protection. Currently, original works of authorship include the following kinds of creative works:

  • Musical— written scores and sound recordings
  • Dramatic—performance as well as reproduction of scripts
  • Literary
  • Architectural
  • Pictorial, graphic and sculptural efforts
  • Dance, pantomime and choreographic
  • Audiovisual

Copyright law protects what are known as derivative works—works based on an existing copyright. A movie version of a book or an operatic adaptation of a play may be protected. Compilations of prior materials are also protected.

The Time Period for Copyright Protection

When the first copyright law was enacted, the stated term of protection was 14 years, and the copyright could be renewed once, provided the author was still alive at the time of renewal. Under current copyright law, the protection extends for the life of the author, plus an additional 70 years for privately-held copyrights. Different laws govern copyrights held by corporations.

Copyright-The Basic Requirements

The Copyright Act permits protection for “original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression.”

  • Originality—Originality does not mean that something never existed before, but that it came from the author and was not borrowed or known by the creator to exist before it was fixed in a tangible medium
  • Works of authorship—See the list above
  • Fixed in a tangible medium—A work is considered fixed when it is stored on a medium that can be communicated, perceived or reproduced. Copyright does not protect ideas, but only the tangible expression of those ideas.

Registration of a Copyright

Under the law, copyright “subsists.” That means that it automatically goes into effect once an original work of authorship has been fixed in a tangible medium. Registration is not required to own a copyright. However, registration with the U.S. Copyright Office puts the copyright owner in better position should litigation ensue.

The Fair Use Exception to Copyright Protection

The Copyright Act allows for certain “fair use” of copyrighted materials, specifically for instructional use, news reporting, research or scholarship, and criticism or comment. In such instances, the courts will typically look at the nature of the copyrighted work, how much of the work was used, the effect that the use may have had on the market for the copyrighted work, and the extent to which the use was commercial in nature.

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