Copyright Law Explained

In this copyright tutorial, we will attempt to explain copyright law in sufficient detail to answer the most frequently asked questions, such as:

  • What is copyright?
  • How do I copyright my material?
  • I hired a web designer to create a web site; who owns copyright?
  • Is the copyright symbol necessary?
  • What is copyright infringement?
  • How long does copyright last?
  • What information can be copyrighted?
  • What is fair use?
  • I’m a minor; can I claim copyright?
  • What is public domain?

    Copyright Law

    What is copyright?
    Copyright is a form of legal protection provided by the laws of the United States, and enforced by the United States and most other countries party to the Berne Convention.

    Copyright gives the authors of original works exclusive right to publish or reproduce those works; and to seek compensation from those who make unauthorized copies or reproductions of those works.

    How do I copyright my material?
    Your web page, ad copy, essay, etc, is copyrighted the minute you publish it.

    Is the copyright symbol necessary?
    No. The copyright symbol – notice of copyright – is not necessary. In case you’re confused, let’s try it again: In order for a work to be copyright protected, it does not need a copyright notice. Copyright notice being “©” or “Copyright”, followed by the date, and often by the words, “All Rights Reserved”.

    It is not needed for the simple reason that all published material is automatically copyrighted.

    How long does copyright last?
    Copyright protection, in most cases, expires fifty years after your death.

    In cinematographic cases, protection shall expire fifty years after the work has been made available to the public with the consent of the author.
    -The Berne Convention

    When the author of a certain work cannot be determined, such as the case when works are published anonymously or pseudonymously, copyright expires fifty years after the work has been lawfully made available to the public.

    I hired a web designer to create a web site; who owns copyright?
    Unless specifically contracted otherwise, you own the copyrights. In the case of works made for hire, the employer and not the employee is considered to be the author. This rule applies to:

  • Translations
  • Commissioned Work (Graphics, Ad Copy, Web Page Scripts)
  • Photographs

    What is copyright infringement?
    Displaying, reproducing, copying and/or distributing copyrighted works without the permission of the author is copyright infringement.

    On the Internet, inlining and hotlinking images are common forms of copyright infringement. One court has determined that one website’s framing of another is copyright infringement.

    What information can be copyrighted?
    You may copyright novels, videos, plays, poetry, movies, CD-ROMs, video games, paintings, sheet music, recorded music performances, software code, sculptures, photographs, choreography, architectural designs, scripts and graphics. The work must be original, and fixed in a tangible medium of expression.

    You may not copyright common phrases such as Rock-n-Roll, I’ll be back, or death and taxes.

    Neither may you copyright facts – even if you discovered those facts. Nor are you able to copyright theories or ideas.

    What is fair use?
    The term Fair Use is a defense against a charge of copyright infringement.

    Fair Use exceptions to copyright protection allow others to use small portions of copyrighted material in order to criticize, review or parody a copyrighted work without permission of the author.

    Fair use does not allow others to copy copyrighted works in their entirety.

    I’m a minor; can I claim copyright?
    Sure. There are no age limits to copyright.

    What is public domain?
    A common myth on the Internet is that anything published on the Internet is public domain. Not true.

    Unless the author died over fifty years ago, or specifically placed the work in the public domain by stating, This work is dedicated to the public domain, then it is safe to assume that it is not within the public domain.


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