Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (title 17, U.S. Code) to the authors of original works of authorship, including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works, including material published in electronic format. Copyright protection covers any work, published or unpublished.
Copyright protection subsists from the time the work is created in fixed form. The copyright in the work of authorship immediately becomes the property of the author who created the work. Only the author or those deriving their rights through the author can rightfully claim copyright.
Copyright law protects the expression of ideas or facts, not the ideas or facts themselves.
Copyright protection begins from the moment a work is started and some aspect of it has been fixed in a tangible medium. In the U.S., no registration or notice is required for works to be protected under copyright law. However, registration is advised if legal action is undertaken to recover damages; posting the copyright notice also prevents the “innocent offender” defense, where a copyright violator might claim that s/he was not aware of the copyright status of the work that s/he reproduced.
What is not protected by copyright?
Several categories of material are generally not eligible for federal copyright protection. These include among others:
- works that have not been fixed in a tangible form of expression (for example, choreographic works that have not been notated or recorded, or improvisational speeches or performances that have not been written or recorded)
- titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; familiar symbols or designs; mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, or coloring; mere listings of ingredients or contents
- ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devices, as distinguished from a description, explanation, or illustration
- works consisting entirely of information that is common property and containing no original authorship (for example: standard calendars, height and weight charts, tape measures and rulers, and lists or tables taken from public documents or other common sources) – most of the information produced by the U.S. Government is not copyrighted and may be freely used
What are the limits to copyright?
In general, it is permissible for a person to reproduce portions of another’s work under the doctrine of “fair use”, including applications that clearly advance education or scholarship
What to consider when determining “fair use”
- the purpose of the use – including non-profit educational use
- the nature of the copyrighted work
- the amount of the copying
- the effect of the copying on the market value (or potential market value) of the work
How to avoid copyright infringement:
- always get written permission to reproduce another’s work (see link below for how-to)
- use only your original work in your project
How long does copyright last?
A work that is created (fixed in tangible form for the first time) on or after January 1, 1978, is automatically protected from the moment of its creation and is ordinarily given a term enduring for the author’s life plus an additional 70 years after the author’s death.
Under the law in effect before 1978, copyright was secured either on the date a work was published with a copyright notice or on the date of registration if the work was registered in unpublished form. In either case, the copyright endured for a first term of 28 years from the date it was secured. During the last (28th) year of the first term, the copyright was eligible for renewal. The Copyright Act of 1976 extended the renewal term from 28 to 47 years for copyrights that were subsisting on January 1, 1978, or for pre-1978 copyrights restored under the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA), making these works eligible for a total term of protection of 75 years. Public Law 105-298, enacted on October 27, 1998, further extended the renewal term of copyrights still subsisting on that date by an additional 20 years, providing for a renewal term of 67 years and a total term of protection of 95 years.
Public Law 102-307, enacted on June 26, 1992, amended the 1976 Copyright Act to provide for automatic renewal of the term of copyrights secured between January 1, 1964, and December 31, 1977. Although the renewal term is automatically provided, the Copyright Office does not issue a renewal certificate for these works unless a renewal application and fee are received and registered in the Copyright Office.
Public Law 102-307 makes renewal registration optional. Thus, filing for renewal registration is no longer required in order to extend the original 28-year copyright term to the full 95 years. However, some benefits accrue from making a renewal registration during the 28th year of the original term.
What are the penalties for violating copyright?
|(a) Criminal Infringement. —
(1) In general. — Any person who willfully infringes a copyright shall be punished as provided under section 2319 of title 18, if the infringement was committed —
(A) for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain;
(B) by the reproduction or distribution, including by electronic means, during any 180-day period, of 1 or more copies or phonorecords of 1 or more copyrighted works, which have a total retail value of more than $1,000; or
(C) by the distribution of a work being prepared for commercial distribution, by making it available on a computer network accessible to members of the public, if such person knew or should have known that the work was intended for commercial distribution.
(2) Evidence. — For purposes of this subsection, evidence of reproduction or distribution of a copyrighted work, by itself, shall not be sufficient to establish willful infringement of a copyright.
(3) Definition. — In this subsection, the term “work being prepared for commercial distribution” means —
(A) a computer program, a musical work, a motion picture or other audiovisual work, or a sound recording, if, at the time of unauthorized distribution —
(i) the copyright owner has a reasonable expectation of commercial distribution; and
(ii) the copies or phonorecords of the work have not been commercially distributed; or
(B) a motion picture, if, at the time of unauthorized distribution, the motion picture —
(i) has been made available for viewing in a motion picture exhibition facility; and
(ii) has not been made available in copies for sale to the general public in the United States in a format intended to permit viewing outside a motion picture exhibition facility.
(b) Forfeiture and Destruction. — When any person is convicted of any violation of subsection (a), the court in its judgment of conviction shall, in addition to the penalty therein prescribed, order the forfeiture and destruction or other disposition of all infringing copies or phonorecords and all implements, devices, or equipment used in the manufacture of such infringing copies or phonorecords.
(c) Fraudulent Copyright Notice. — Any person who, with fraudulent intent, places on any article a notice of copyright or words of the same purport that such person knows to be false, or who, with fraudulent intent, publicly distributes or imports for public distribution any article bearing such notice or words that such person knows to be false, shall be fined not more than $2,500.
(d) Fraudulent Removal of Copyright Notice. — Any person who, with fraudulent intent, removes or alters any notice of copyright appearing on a copy of a copyrighted work shall be fined not more than $2,500.
(e) False Representation. — Any person who knowingly makes a false representation of a material fact in the application for copyright registration provided for by section 409, or in any written statement filed in connection with the application, shall be fined not more than $2,500.
Investigating the copyright status of a work
There are several ways to investigate whether a work is under copyright protection and, if so, the facts of the copyright. These are the main ones:
Examine a copy of the work for such elements as a copyright notice, place and date of publication, author and publisher. If the work is a sound recording, examine the disk, tape cartridge, or cassette in which the recorded sound is fixed, or the album cover, sleeve, or container in which the recording is sold.
Make a search of the Copyright Office catalogs and other records or have the Copyright Office make a search for you.
Learn the basics with the copyright comic book from Duke University: “Tales from the Public Domain: Bound by Law?” http://www.law.duke.edu/cspd/comics/digital.php
How to investigate the copyright status of a work
Determine public domain status
United States Copyright Office
general information on what is and is not protected by copyright, how to search for copyright records, updates on legal aspects of copyright issues
Copyright Registration for Online Resources
Copyright and Fair Use – Stanford University Libraries
award-winning, comprehensive copyright/fair use information resource
Copyright Clearance Center
“manages rights relating to over 1.75 million works and represents more than 9,600 publishers and hundreds of thousands of authors and other creators, directly or through their representatives.”