The Basics Of Copyright Law

Copyright-_all_rights_reservedAll too often, however, musicians, authors, and artists alike find themselves not properly protected under the law. The growth of the internet has only helped to facilitate copyrighted material and make it increasingly more complicated to protect artists under the law. It is important to know the basics of copyright law in order to understand why these laws are in place, how they help to drive the creative process, and how to avoid unintentionally using copyrighted material illegally.

Copyright is a federal law under Title 17 of the United States Code. It originated with the United States Constitution in an effort to protect the rights of originators of creative work and their ability to profit from their creative work.

Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution states that “Congress shall have the power… To Promote the Process of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

Simply put, copyright is the right of the authors or owners of content to control the use of their work for a limited period of time. It is important to note that the a piece of copyrighted work must be an original work of authorship which is fixed in a tangible medium of expression. This refers to a physical copy of the work, such as written work on paper, movie on a hard drive, or song on a disk.

Copyright is important because it not only protects the rights of the originators of creative work but it also promotes creativity and learning. With copyright laws in place, an author or musician can reasonably expect that they will control over their work, which encourages them to continue to create and be creative and allows the rest of us to learn and absorb their creation.

So what can be copyrighted? There are eight categories of works that are copyrightable under the law:

  1. Architectural works.
  2. Computer programs.
  3. Compilations of works and derivative works.
  4. Literary, musical and dramatic works.
  5. Motion pictures and other AV works.
  6. Pantomimes and choreographic works.
  7. Pictorial, graphic and sculptural works.
  8. Sound recordings.

Adversely, there are also numerous types of works that can be copyrighted as well. Having familiarity with this list as well will help you better understand what makes a piece of work copyrightable. So what cannot be copyrighted?

  1. Ideas, procedures, methods, and processes
  2. Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans (they can be trademarked but not copyrighted)
  3. Works in the public domain
  4. Works that are not fixed in a tangible medium of expression
  5. Facts, news, and research (for example, you cannot copyright a standard calendar)



Purdue University: Copyright Overview

Your Business: Why Are Copyright Law Important

United States Copyright Office

Stanford University: Copyright & Fair Use

Digital Media Law Project