Copyright Basics

  • Copyright protects creative expression. The U.S. Constitution gives Congress the right to set copyright terms for a limited time in order to encourage the progress of science and useful arts.
    • Many different forms and media can be copyrighted, including textual works, sound recordings, music scores, software, moving pictures, and more.
    • Ideas, facts, slogans, and useful objects cannot be copyrighted.
  • Under the current law, copyright occurs as soon as creative expression is fixed in tangible form.
    • There is no need to register the copyright or to provide notice (the c in the circle).
    • Nevertheless, these formalities do have some benefits. Registration is necessary before a copyright owner can litigate for copyright infringement. Providing notice lets the world know that the owner holds the copyright and will protect it.
  • The copyright owner has six broad rights that are sometimes called the “bundle of rights.”  These are the right:
    • Of reproduction
    • To prepare derivative works
    • Of distribution
    • Of public performance
    • Of display
    • Of performance through digital audio transmission
  • The copyright holder can transfer or license one or all of these rights permanently or temporarily. A license (permission to take advantage of one of the copyright holder’s exclusive rights on a temporary basis) may be exclusive or nonexclusive.
  • Throughout twentieth century, Congress extended the duration of copyright. When a work by an individual author is published in the U.S. today, the copyright term is 70 years plus the life of the author. For a work of corporate authorship, the copyright term is 95 years from publication or 120 years from the date when the work was created, whichever is shorter.