Copyright is all about balancing the rights of authors with the rights of the public to use the work without seeking permission or paying royalties. Under copyright, authors have the right to control the use of their work subject to exceptions permitted under the law. If the use exceeds such exceptions, then infringing on someone's copyright can result in the infringer paying money damages (civil liability) and/or going to prison (criminal liability). To understand your rights and responsibilities under the copyright law, review the basics and the exceptions.
Copyright law originated with the United States Constitution. In Article I, Section 8, the Constitution states that "Congress shall have the power...To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries".
A work becomes copyrighted when it is fixed in a tangible medium of expression. After March 1, 1989 works no longer require a copyright notice (© or the word copyright, the author´s name and the year of publication). Copyright registration is also no longer required. However, it is wise to affix a copyright notice to works so that the owner of the copyright can be easily identified.
Eight categories of works are copyrightable:
|Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, and processes are not copyrightable.||Example: The list of ingredients for recipes are not copyrightable. However, the recipes' instructions are protected.|
|Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans are not copyrightable.||Example: Nike's slogan "Just do it" is not copyrightable. However, a slogan can receive trademark protection as is the case in the example.|
|Facts, news, and research are not copyrightable.||Example: A standard calendar.|
|Works in the public domain are not copyrightable.||
Example 1: Works created by United States government employees, where the works they created are a result of what they were hired to do.
Example 2: Work published in the United States prior to 1923.
|Works that are not fixed in a tangible medium of expression.||
Example: Extemporaneous speeches that are not written or recorded.
The owner of a copyright has six exclusive rights:
Works created on or after January 1, 1978 are protected for a term of the life of the author plus 70 years. If it is a corporate author then the protection is for the shorter of 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation. Works created and published prior to 1978 may be protected for different lengths of time.
For more information regarding the length of a copyright, please see the copyright duration chart from Cornell University.
Example: Author James Michener died in 1997. His works such as Alaska, Texas, and The Eagle and the Raven, which were all created after 1978, are protected under the copyright law until 2067.
Copyright infringement is the act of violating any of a copyright owner’s exclusive rights granted by the federal Copyright Act. There are three elements that must be in place in order for the infringement to occur.
The legal penalties for copyright infringement are: