Copyright 101

Copyright is a kind of protection given for original published and unpublished works, authored in a tangible form of expression.

The penalties for copyright infringement can range from a 5-year prison term for first offenders to a 10-year prison term for repeat offenders. If you are arrested for a copyright violation, a bail bonds service can help you stay away from prison pending your hearing. The following will discuss what copyright protects, how it is different from patent or trademarks, who owns a copyright, and what constitutes copyright infringement.

What Does Copyright Protect?

Works protected by copyright have to be intangible form and original. Copyrights don’t protect procedures, systems, processes, ideas, concepts, discoveries, principles, or methods of operation. Copyrights only offer protection to physical representations. These include dramatic, literary, artistic, and musical works, like movies, novels, architecture, computer software, poems, and songs.

Anything that is not recorded is not governed by copyright law since it is not fixed. For example improvisations and dances are not copyrightable but written descriptions and visual recordings of them are. Therefore, a work needs to be recorded or kept in a tangible manner, and not necessarily published formally, to qualify for copyright protection.

The originality requirement implies that work needs to be created independently by the author. For a work to be deemed as original, it need not have artistic merit, novelty, lawful content, or truth. For example, a false biography may not be based on the truth but it is copyrightable. The same case applies to a pipe for smoking bhang, it may not be lawful but it is copyrightable.

How is Copyright Different From Patents and Trade Marks?

While copyright offers protection against authored original works, patents protect discoveries or inventions. However, copyright may protect the manner in which discoveries and ideas are expressed. A trademark provides protection against designs, symbols, phrases, and words used to identify the source of specific goods or services and distinguish them from other sources.

Who Owns Copyright?

When an original work is created in a tangible form it automatically falls under copyright protection. The author of the work owns the copyright in that work and is the only one who bears the right to redistribute or reproduce the work and to license or transfer these rights to other parties.

However, when a work is made for hire, the employee surrenders the ownership to the employer. Under Copyright Law, Section 101, a work that is made for hire is any work compiled by an employee during the scope of their employment. When an independent contractor gets into a written agreement acknowledging that their work is made for hire, the hiring person or employer, or firm, owns that work. The following works for hire are governed under copyright law:

  • A translation
  • A compilation
  • A supplementary work like an introduction, editorial note, chart, bibliography, index, or appendix
  • Part of an audiovisual job like a screenplay or a motion picture
  • Part of a literary work like a poem, article, or story
  • A supplementary work like a bibliography, index, appendix, editorial note, chart, afterword, or introduction
  • A test (or the answer sheet for the test)
  • An atlas
  • Instructional text

Collective works comprising a couple of independent works like an encyclopedia or magazine, the authors of the independent works own the copyright for their contribution. There is also distinct copyright protection that covers the entire collective work since it takes creativity to select all these individual works and compile them.

The ownership of a painting, manuscript, book, or any similar copy does not qualify for copyright protection.

Minors are allowed to claim copyright; however, many state laws control business dealings that involve copyrights by minors.

What Constitutes Copyright Infringement?

Copyright infringement involves the following actions by someone other than the author of the original work:

  • Reproduce or copy the work
  • Create a new job derived from the original job. For example, translation of work to a new language or distorting or copying the image, or transferring work into a new form of expression
  • Give away or sell work or a copy of original work. However, this is only an offense if it is the first time the original work is being sold or given away.
  • Displaying or performing original work in public without the authorization of the owner.