FAQ: Copyright Law

Copyright Laws
Ten Common Questions about Copyright Law

A copyright is a form of protection of art and culture given to the artist or author. The copyright gives the person who created the work six exclusive rights. These rights are the right to reproduce the work, distribute the work, publicly display the work, publicly perform the work, and prepare derivative works and to digitally transmit the work.

The copyright laws of the United States are intended to encourage the creation of new works of art.

Works created today would be protected until 70 years after the author’s death. Once the copyright expires, the work enters the public domain.

Who is the owner of a “work for hire”?

A work for hire is a work commissioned by an employer who paid for the work. Typically, in this case the owner of the copyright would be the employer and not the artist.  Works for hire include those produced by an independent contractor or an employee. Many independent contractor agreements and employment contracts have detailed work for hire provisions, and some states have strict guidelines for what a work for hire is. It is a good idea to have these provisions reviewed by an attorney before signing.

In the case of a joint work, the contributors agree they are co-owners of a single copyright for that work. This agreement should be reached before the work is produced, and, as always, should be in writing!

Yes. There are three ways that this can be done, through assignment, thorough exclusive license and through non-exclusive license. Assignment and exclusive license require the transfer to be in writing, whereas non-exclusive licenses are implied by the circumstances. Transfer of copyright ownership transfers one or more of the exclusive rights afforded by a copyright, but not necessarily all of the exclusive rights.

The work is receives copyright protection immediately after creation. However, in order to be in a better position in case of litigation, registering the work with the Copyright Office is recommended.

To register your copyright you must file and send the appropriate form to the U.S. Copyright Office, along with a copy or a rendition of the original work.

Infringement occurs when an individual copies a work protected by a copyright. This must involve a conscious copying of the work. If two individuals create nearly identical works, completely independent of one another, then this is not considered infringement.

What is fair use?

Fair use of a copyrighted work allows for the reproduction of a work for the purposes of comment, criticism, reporting, teaching, and scholarship. For example, a book critic can copy a section of text when writing an article without fear of infringement. Generally, under these circumstances only a small portion of the material is reproduced.

This post is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be, nor should it be construed, as legal advice. Always consult an attorney, licensed in your state, before taking legal action.