Copyright Law Principles for Authors
What Is Copyright Law?
Intellectual property refers to creations of the mind: inventions, literary and artistic works, symbols, names and images used in commerce.
Intellectual property rights are divided into two main categories: industrial property and copyright. While industrial property protects innovations, trademarks, and industrial designs, copyright is the exclusive legal right to produce, reproduce, publish, or perform an original literary, artistic, dramatic, or musical work.
Copyright law can thus be defined as a set of rules that protect original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium.
The following most frequent questions regarding copyright protection will be addressed:
- Which rights does copyright protection confer?
- Must a work be registered to be deemed copyrighted?
- How long does copyright last?
- Are there any limitations to copyright?
- What is the concept of ownership in copyright law?
- How different is licensing from assignment?
- Is plagiarism a copyright infringement?
General Principles of Copyright
It is important to know that each country has its copyright law. Even though the principles mentioned in this article are found in most countries' copyright texts, there may be minute differences from one legal text to another.
The Rights Conferred by Copyright
Copyright protection provides two categories of rights:
- Moral Rights: They include the right to claim ownership of the work - also known as the right of paternity - and the right to object to any distortion or modification of the work which would be prejudicial to the author's honor or reputation - often referred to as the right of integrity.
- Economic Rights: They allow the right owners to derive financial rewards from the use of their works. Unlike the moral rights which belong solely to the owner, economic rights may be transferred.
Note that neighboring rights, associated with copyright, protect the rights of performers, sound recorders and broadcasters.
When Does Copyright Protection Start?
It is generally agreed that copyright protection starts as soon as a work is created, regardless of whether or not it is registered. The only requirement is that the form of expression of the work must be an original creation of the author.
Nonetheless, registration with a national office of Intellectual Property constitutes an official proof of ownership that can be helpful in copyright litigation.
How Long Does Copyright Last?
It usually lasts for the duration of the lifetime of the author plus a certain number of years. In Canada for instance, the rule is "life-plus-fifty", which means the copyright will be valid for up to fifty years after the author's demise, then will enter the public domain. However, there are exceptions to that rule, which include but are not limited to, Government works and joint authorship.
Are There Limitations to Copyright Protection?
Copyright protects only creative ideas in tangible form. Thus, it does not include ideas, factual information, plots, character's names, or themes. It equally does not protect creations that have already fallen into the public domain.
There is no copyright in ideas. It's just about how words are expressed.— Mark Stephens
In principle, the owner of a work is the creator or author of that work.
However, this is not always the case. For example, a full-time employee who authors a work for his company in the course of his job is generally not considered the owner of that work, unless otherwise agreed between the parties in the employment contract.
Again, when a person pays another to create something for them, the creator remains the owner of the work, unless both parties enter a contract that includes an assignment clause.
In the same way, purchasing a creation does not give buyer ownership of copyright; it rather gives the purchaser a license to make use of the work.
Note also that posting a work online does not remove its copyright protection, nor does it make it available to the public for free use.
Licensing & Assignment
An author may transfer the economic rights in his work to an individual or a company in return for payments called royalties. A transfer of copyright may either be an assignment or a licensing.
Assignment takes place when the right owner transfers all or some of their rights to another party, such that the assignee becomes the new copyright owner. Copyright rights are divisible, so it is possible to have multiple right owners for the same work.
Licensing occurs when an author grants permission to another to use their work for a specific purpose, but they keep ownership and maintain their rights. An illustration of licensing would be an author of a novel giving permission to a publisher to produce and distribute copies of their novel.
Plagiarism is presenting someone else's work or ideas as though they were yours, that is, without giving credit to their true author.
Though plagiarism breaks moral and ethical codes of conduct, it does not qualify as copyright infringement and is not an offense. A violation of copyright applies when a specific form of expression - an image, a bulk of sentences taken word for word, etc.- is copied, whereas plagiarism occurs when ideas or insubstantial parts of another's work, are copied.
What an Author Must Know
In all, an author must be aware of the general principles of copyright law applicable in their country, most especially the rules governing ownership, transfer, and various forms of copyright infringement.
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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2020 Uriel Eliane