Copyright Law Basics
A copyright provides protection for authorís work for a limited time. A work may be
writing, a photograph, sculpture, music, a computer program, etc. Things that cannot be
copyrighted are ideas, procedures or methods, and principles or concepts. Only physical
creations can be copyrighted, not ideas themselves.
The creator of a work owns the copyright.
A copyright consists of five rights.
1. The right to reproduce the work by any means.
2. The right to create derivatives based on the copyrighted work. A derivative is
based on preexisting work but with changes or adaptations.
3. The right to distribute copies to the public for sale or lease. It is important
to distinguish between the sale of a work and sale of the copyright to that work.
Unless a license is granted, all work is sold with the seller retaining the copyright.
If a license is granted, it should be in writing and should specify exactly which
rights are being granted.
4. The right to perform the work publicly, for example to broadcast it on television.
5. The right to display the work publicly. Once the copyright owner has sold a copy
of the work, the purchaser has the right to display that copy, but not to reproduce it.
The five rights can be transferred individually or in whole.
Work For Hire
Work for hire is an exception to the rule that the person who created the work owns
the copyright. If an employee as part of his or her job created the work, it is
defined as a work for hire, and the employer owns the copyright. If the employee
wants to retain the copyright, he needs a written contract with the employer to do so.
Your personal creative work has common law copyright protection from the instant the
work is completed until fifty years after your death. This protection cannot be
renewed after expiration. In the case of a corporation, the work for hire is protected
for a period of 100 years from creation, or 75 years from first publication,
whichever comes first.
It is a good idea to put a proper notice on your work to make others aware of your
copyright. The notice consists of the symbol (C) or the word "Copyright", the name
of the author or company, and the year of publication. Without this notice, someone
may copy the work in belief that it is in the public domain. In this situation, the
copier would be considered an innocent infringer. The creator of the work cannot
recover damages, and the court might allow the copier to continue using the work.
To register a copyright, you must file an application form with the Copyright Register.
You must also deposit two copies of the work with the Library of Congress. If the
objects are too large, or depositing two copies is not possible for some other reason,
you can apply for a waiver of that requirement. Then you may be permitted to submit
photographs instead of the actual work.