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Copyright Laws

Thursday, 19 January 2017

by Staff, Spaulding Law

Copyright is a legal mechanism that provides the creator of a work of art or literature, or a work that conveys information or ideas, the right to control how the work is used. Some examples of work protected by copyright would be novels, plays, poetry, movies, sheet music, photography, choreography, etc. The creator’s rights include:

• the right to make copies of a protected work
• the right to sell or otherwise distribute copies of a protected work
• the right to create adaptations or derivative works
• the right to perform a protected work

Copyrighted materials may only be used by the author or a person or entity to whom the author has transferred all or part of his or her rights. If someone wrongfully uses the protected material, the copyright owner can sue for damages.

Copyright protection only exists for work that is "fixed in a tangible medium of expression", original, and the result of some creative effort on the part of the author. “Fixed in a tangible medium of expression” means that the work must exist in some physical form for at least some period of time, no matter how brief. There is no definitive rule as to how much creativity is enough to qualify. It may be similar to existing works, lacking in quality, ingenuity, or aesthetic merit. As long as the author creates without copying from someone else, the results are protected by copyright.

Copyright does not protect the ideas upon which an expression is based. For example, copyright may protect a particular play about a father and son at war with each other, but it cannot protect the underlying idea of family conflict. Allowing authors to monopolize ideas is in opposition of the very purpose of copyright law, which is to encourage the creation of new work.

Facts are not protected under copyright law even if the author spends considerable time and effort discovering things that were previously unknown. It doesn’t matter whether the facts are scientific, historical, biographical, or current event news. Any facts that an author discovers in the course of research are free to all as part of the public domain. Copyright protection does not last forever. Below are some guidelines to help you understand when a copyright will expire:

• All works published in the United States before 1923 are in the public domain.
• Works published after 1977, the copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years.
• The work was never published and the author died over 70 years ago, copyright terminated on December 31, 2002.
• The work was published after 1922 but before 1978, it is protected for 95 years from the date of publication.
• The work was created, but not published, before 1978, the copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years.
• A previously unpublished work was published before December 31, 2002 and the author died over 70 years ago, the copyright will last until December 31, 2047.
• The work has been specifically commissioned or created in the course of employment ("work for hire") or is published anonymously or under a pseudonym, the copyright lasts between 95 and 120 years, depending on the date the work is published.

This information is made available by Spaulding Law for educational purposes only and not to provide legal advice. By using this website, you understand that there is no attorney-client relationship between you and Spaulding Law, unless you have entered into a separate representation agreement. This information should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney.

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