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Copyright law basics: Featured Article

When you have something that is valuable to you, you always want to protect it properly. The property may be something tangible like a home or a souvenir or trinket received from a family member, or it could be something more intangible like a memory or the rights to an idea. There are ways to protect both tangible and intangible assets. The way most people protect tangible objects that are very valuable is through insurance. One way to help people protect intangible or intellectual property is through the use of a copyright. Copyrights give exclusive rights to the owner to make copies, or make something derived from the idea contained in the copyrighted information. The copyright owner can decide if other people will be allowed to use their ideas and information or not. Of course there are different laws and regulations that govern these types of property when you cross international borders, but the idea is basically the same. A copyright owner can also sell the rights or license the right to their ideas if they want to mass produce it or to make money off it too.

People use copyrights when what they have created could be considered a creative work. So of course, one of the biggest issues is deciding what qualifies something as a creative work. Copyright laws state that the item or thing to be copyrighted has to exist in some physical or tangible form. You can't copyright something that is in your head or that you thought of. It needs to be on your computer, on paper, physically assembled or some other form of actual existence. One of the most important criteria about something that makes it creative is that it can't just be raw date or numbers. However once you write something down, it could still be considered creative, like a computer program or language. Words cannot be copyrighted unless they are recorded and put on tape or some other form of digital media. You can also edit something creatively to make it copyrightable. So even though just information or facts can't be copyrighted, the creative organization or outlining of that information can be.

Some countries have specific instructions as to what in excepted from being able to be copyrighted. For example, fonts or handwriting that was printed on paper cannot be copyrighted for reasons that may be historical. Things that are done by the US government cannot be copyrighted within the boundaries of the USA. And one of the most obvious points, so much that it might not even be mentioned, is that you can't copyright something that has already been copyrighted by someone else. You are also not allowed to base your work on theirs and claim it as your own without permission.



Helpful Resources:
1. U.S. Copyright Office
This link will take you to the official U.S. Copyright Office. Here you can read about frequently asked copyright questions, fees, legal issues, copyright holder rights, and much more!

2. Basics of Copyright Laws
This brief introduction to the basics of copyright law provides a concise summary of the most important points of the law including what rights you have to use information and the rights of the copyright holder when it comes to claiming rights to that information.

3. Further Information
This is a link to a free resource for legal professionals to use in order to gain further information regarding a variety of different laws including copyright laws. This link reads much like an encyclopedia article.

4. Issues
This site contains a collection of articles that have to deal with a variety of issues that surround copyright law basics. This site is also classified as a legal resource.

5. Protection
This site contains articles of particular interest to artist looking to protect their work from being copied and sold by other individuals. Look through these articles to find applicable information.

6. Copyright Office of the Library of Congress
This article is sponsored by the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress and talks about what basics you should know about copyright law including who can claim a copyright, international laws, etc.

7. Summary
This site offers a good overall summary of what copyright law basics are including how copyright laws apply to works that are available on the internet. This site is sponsored by Pierce Law School.

8. Anti-Piracy Laws
Anti-piracy laws have a great deal to do with copyright laws especially as they apply to movies and other multimedia entertainment. Follow this link to read more about what copyright laws you should know about before illegally downloading or copying movies or software.

9. Education of Marketers
Knowledge of copyright law is particularly important to certain professions, one of which is the marketing profession. This site is dedicated to educating marketers on what they need to know about copyright laws.

10. Copyright Registration
This site clearly outlines the basics of copyright registration and why you need to go through this process in order to obtain copyright protection on your works. It also briefly explains the difference between a copyright and a patent.

One of the most common forms of copyright infringement is simply making copies of something. Of course computers and the internet have added a new twist to this concept, but the basic idea is still the same. But copying has to do with several different ideas or concepts. One of the most basic things underlying copyright law is the idea of commerce. Most people believe that the main reason to copyright something is so that you will be able to make money from someone else using your idea. This creates a strong desire and drive to innovate and keep the economy and technology constantly increasing. And even though a copyright owner would not want you to copy something that belongs to them for the sake of copying it, they would rather sell you the privilege or rights to use it in a product that could be marketed and they could receive profit from. The market brings the rights of the owner and the urge to copy something into balance. Another commercial aspect of copyright says that if something is going to be copyrighted, it has to have some sort of market value as well. No one is going to file a law suit over a copied name or letter unless there is dramatic value attached to that name or letter.

Another important aspect of copyright is that of what is called fair use. This is a rather complicated system but basically allows certain type of copying in certain areas. Some examples would be a film critic including a clip of a film being reviewed to show readers or listeners what is really being commented on. Because a negative critic would never be able to secure permission from the copyright owner, so this is considered fair use. Otherwise disallowing access because of a copyright could infringe on rights basic to most nations governments (this is also a very complicated issue). The fair use concept is also applicable in classrooms and teaching situations. How could a teacher conduct a class on a book by a particular author and quote their text in class without infringing on copyright laws? The fair use principle allows this. Fair use has also branched into the world of computers and the internet with so many advances in these areas.

One simple rule that applies to using something you find on the internet. If you found it online and you want to use it or reproduce but aren't sure if it's even copyrighted, you will want to ask the copyright owner or website administrator for permission to use information. Most people don't need to get much deeper than this.

Almost all major countries have signed documents formed under the direction of the Berne copyright convention which state that a work is copyrighted once it is fixed in its tangible form. There is no notice or registration necessary but could be a good idea later on to add further protection. Copyrights only last 70 years after the author dies and then they become part of the public domain and can be used by anyone for any reason. A copyright can only be claimed by the author or a person that the author has given authority to exercise the copyright.

One common mistake that people make is assuming that if they are not using the copyrighted information, that it is not an infringement of copyright laws and rights. This is not true. You can still violate a copyright even if you will never receive any benefit from using it. Of course it is more likely that you will be sued if you intend or actually did benefit, especially in financial ways, from the use of someone else's copyrighted material. The Copyright Act of 1976 helps to clarify and define many of the subtleties about copyright laws and their violation. While it is illegal for someone to infringe on the rights of a copyright holder, their entitlements under the law are not unlimited as was explained earlier. The Copyright Act helps establish the circumstances under which violation has actually occurred and those under which it is considered fair use. Some allow the payment of Royalty fees to enable a user to legally reproduce or use a reproduction of the copyrighted material.

Some other important things to keep in mind in our technologically advanced world are important to consider. Just because you purchased a copy of a work that is copyrighted does not entitle you to make reproductions of it and distribute it to other people, whether for profit or not. When you have purchased a digital copy of a song or movie that does not give automatic permission to make as many copies as wanted and to distribute them to all friends and family members. It is also important to note that copyrights can be claimed by minors but usually have less force unless they are also backed up by an adult. Laws and regulations can also differ from state to state.

Some examples of works that could be protected by a copyright are (but of course not limited to) literary works, musical works including lyrics, dramatic works including music, pantomimes and choreography, pictures, graphics, or sculptures, movies or other audiovisual works, sound recordings, architectural works, etc. While these categories are very broad they usually include almost all things that could be considered creative works.

Whether you are interested in copyright because you have something that you want to protect or because you want to use or reproduce something that has already been copyrighted, it is very important to make sure that boundaries are not crossed without securing the proper legal permissions first. How terrible it would be for you to assume you could use something because you found it online and then ended up being sued or prosecuted because of infringement of copyright law. It would be equally disastrous if you were to have spent a lot of time on creating something only to find out later that someone else had stolen or used your idea without your permission. It is of vital importance to understand copyright laws and regulations. So whether you are an aspiring inventor, a musical artist, a filmmaker or just an average Joe looking for pictures to use on your computer, you need to be sure and inform yourself about what is allowed and not allowed concerning copyrights.

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