Copyright Law Fundamentals

Copyright Law Fundamentals

Copyright Law Fundamentals

Copyright law protects people such as authors, publishers, writers from making unauthorized copies. But copyright law is so much more than that: it’s the distribution protection of copyrighted material, public performance, public display and digital audio transmission of sound recordings. Below we examine and begin to understand some of the basics of copyright law.

When does copyright protection begin?

As soon as a creation is tangible it can be protected by copyright. Tangible form constitutes a book, letter, picture or even a simple scribble on scrap paper. Creating a painting, sculpture or writing a manuscript, or making a video all form copyright protection immediately on construction.

No notice is required for copyright protection until a work is published, distributed by license, sale, lease or another transfer of ownership. Standard business practice calls for a notice on all copies of the work.

Notice should include:

  1. The Symbol ©
  2. The Word “Copyright” or the Abbreviation “Copr.”
  3. The Year of Publication
  4. The Name of the Owner of the copyright
  5. The Words “All Rights Reserved” Beneath the Copyright Notice


What does Copyright Cover?

What rights and privileges does an owner of copyright have? Let’s use the motion picture business as an example.

  1. Copy: If a copy of any material is made of the protected work it constitutes as copyright infringement.
  2. Derivative Work: If the pre existing work is modified or altered in a minor way, the original is protected. In the movie business, filmmakers must obtain an owner’s permission before making any modifications or alterations.
  3. Distribution: If copyrighted work is made available to the public through sale, lease, rental, lending or transfer of ownership the copyright owner’s permission is required.
  4. Public Performances: If an audience is present and a work is presented it is considered a public performance. If the audience was charged and profit was made, permission from the copyright owner is required.


Does Copyright ever expire?

In modern times, copyright usually lasts for the life of the creator (owner) plus 70 years. If the copyright owner dies, their grandchildren might receive royalties. If a corporation is the copyright owner, the copyright usually lasts ~95 years from the publishing date or ~120 years from its creation (whichever is shorter). A corporation is the owner if the work is made by a contractual employee or when the work is made for hire.

Work Made for Hire ONLY Applies to the Following:

  • Part of a Motion Picture or Other Audio-Visual Work
  • A Test
  • Answer Material for a Test
  • A Contribution to a Collective Work
  • A Supplementary Work
  • An Atlas
  • A Translation


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