Barry Jay Reiss
June 12, 2015
New York ,NY 10001-1738
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Copyright covers literary works such as:
As the majority of material on the Internet falls into one of the categories listed above, most of this vast resource is eligible for copyright protection.
Copyright does not cover:
Copyright gives the author or owner of a work the right to control:
Selling copies of the work doesn’t diminish the author’s copyright control of the work. The purchasers of copies own the physical embodiment of the work, but generally do not own the work itself. The copyright owner may, of course also sell the copyright to the work, but must do so by means of a signed writing.
A copyright is considered infinitely divisible, meaning that the author may sell or license narrow portions of the right. For example, the author of a play could sell the right to publicly perform the play only at 3:00 p.m. on March 12, 2004 in Manassas, Virginia and retain the remainder of the copyright.
Unlike patents, copyrights arise spontaneously when the work has been created. No application or registration is necessary.
The work may be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office if you wish, but this is optional. One reason for choosing to register the work is that a copyright cannot be enforced in a U.S. court unless it has been registered. The copyright registration process is fairly simple. You must first fill out forms available from the U.S. Copyright Office in Washington D.C. You then submit the forms to the Copyright Office along with a small fee and a certain number of copies of the work. The copies are added to the Library of Congress collection in Washington, D.C.
Copyrights lasts for varying periods of time, depending upon who the author is. The copyright term for a work created by a natural person is the lifetime of the author plus 50 years. The copyright term for a work created by a corporation, through its employees, is 100 years from the date of creation, or 75 years from the date of publication.
When a copyright expires, the work falls into the public domain for anyone to use.
The copyright law provides for a limited right called fair use, which allows unauthorized use of portions of the copyrighted work for specific purposes. The fair use privilege is especially important in allowing study, scholarship, commentary and criticism of copyrighted works.
Infringement of a copyright consists of:
The owner of the copyright can sue violators for money. Recently-enacted federal law also provides stiff criminal penalties for selling copyrighted material.
Sherrie Bennett is the former director and staff attorney at the University of Washington Student Legal Services in Seattle.