Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Copyright Law Basics

As an internet lawyer, I often deal with legal issues centered upon copyright. That being said, many times clients are very confused as to what is and what is not protected by copyright.

Copyright is a legal theory which grants the creator of an original work an exclusive bundle of rights flowing forth from such creation. Copyright does not protect ideas, but rather, it protects the expression of ideas in a fixed tangible form. Thus, copyright will protect creative works fixed in such tangible forms as books, cd's, dvd's, computer code, paintings, writings and drawings. In general, copyright is the right to make copies of a given work. However, a whole bundle of rights comes with copyright in America. A copyright holder has the right to be credited for the work, to determine who may make derivative versions of the work, who may distribute copies of the work, who may charge money for exhibition of the work, who may publicly perform or display the work. The public policy motive behind copyright is that governments wish to encourage the creation of new forms of expression by granting authors of works the ability to control the exploitation of such works and make money from such works.

In America, copyrights are created upon creation of a work. However, formal registration with the Librarian of Congress is required as a precedent to enforcing copyrights in a court of law. In other words, you can possess a copyright without formal registration but you can't sue for copyright infringement without a proper registration of the work. Many countries around the world do not require formal registration as a pre-requisite to enforcement.

The term of copyright generally lasts between 50 and 100 years after the author's death.

There are many exceptions and limitations applied in copyright law. The most notable being the "fair use" exception to a copyright holder's exclusive bundle of rights. If the doctrine of fair use applies, no infringement will be found. The internet and new distribution platforms such as peer to peer networks have rapidly changed the copyright landscape. Copyright holders generally advocate for an expansion of copyrights and legal mechanisms to aid in the identification of digital, internet copyright infringers. Many internet populist and digital freedom advocacy groups advocate for expanded application of the fair use doctrine.

If you have further questions regarding copyright and the impact the internet has upon copyrights, contact an internet law attorney for more information.

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