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BASICS OF COPYRIGHT LAW

Written on:February 22, 2013
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What is a copyright?  In general, copyright law protects an artistic expression of an idea; it does not protect the underlying idea itself.

Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (title 17, U. S. Code) to the authors of “original works of authorship,” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works. This protection is available to both published and unpublished works.  The Copyright Act generally gives the owner of copyright the exclusive right to do and to authorize others to do the following:

• reproduce the work in copies or phonorecords;

• prepare derivative works based upon the work;

• distribute copies or phonorecords of the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending;

• perform the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works;

• display the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work; and

• perform the work publicly (in the case of sound recordings*) by means of a digital audio transmission.

It is illegal for anyone to violate any of the rights provided by the copyright law to the owner of copyright. These rights, however, are not unlimited in scope. Sections 107 through 122 of the 1976 Copyright Act establish limitations on these rights. In some cases, these limitations are specified exemptions from copyright liability. One major limitation is the doctrine of “fair use,” which is given a statutory basis in section 107 of the 1976 Copyright Act. In other instances, the limitation takes the form of a “compulsory license” under which certain limited uses of copyrighted works are permitted upon payment of specified royalties and compliance with statutory conditions.

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