- Rights of Copyright Owners
- Protecting Your Own Works
- Works Protected by Copyright
- Copyright and the Public Domain
- Works Not Protected by Copyright
The Copyright Act, comprehensively revised by Congress in 1976, gives authors (including artists, composers and other creators of intellectual works) the right to control, within certain limits, how their works are published, distributed, and sold, and the correlative right to be paid for the use of their work.
The 1976 Copyright Act gives the owner of copyright the right to do and to authorize others to do the following:
- To reproduce the work in copies or phonorecords;
- To prepare derivative works based upon the work;
- To distribute copies or sound recordings of the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending;
- To perform the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
- To display the copyrighted 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
- In the case of sound recordings, to perform the work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.
In addition, certain authors of works of visual art have the rights of attribution and integrity.
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. The Act establishes several limitations on these rights, including, among others, an important general provision for fair use, some provisions for libraries, and some provisions in support of classroom teaching and distance education.
Under the Copyright Act of 1976, a work of authorship is protected from the moment of creation. It does not have to be published, and it does not need a copyright notice. As a user of information, this means that except for very old works and U.S. government publications, you must presume that every creative work is protected by copyright. On the other hand, as a writer or creator of new works, it means that your writings are protected as soon as you click on "save" or "send" or lift your pen from the paper.
Although you have the full protection of the Copyright Act from the time of initial creation, it is helpful to signal your intentions by means of a notice at the beginning of your work, on the first page, opening screen, or some place similar. Use of the formal, traditional copyright notice, the "©," would imply that you wish to protect all the rights in the work. On the other hand, many academic authors are happy to give permission in advance for reproduction for educational uses while reserving the right to republication or other commercial uses to themselves. The Creative Commons is one program that has developed a series of license agreements that permit authors to retain some rights in their work while granting other rights to subsequent users. Georgetown University encourages its faculty and students to consider the use of these mechanisms as a means of facilitating widespread access to scholarly information.
Copyright protects "original works of authorship" that are fixed in a tangible form of expression. The fixation need not be directly perceptible so long as it may be communicated with the aid of a machine or device. Copyrightable works include the following categories:
- literary works;
- musical works, including any accompanying words;
- dramatic works, including any accompanying music;
- pantomimes and choreographic works;
- pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works;
- motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
- sound recordings; and
- architectural works.
These categories should be viewed broadly. For example, computer programs and most "compilations" may be registered as "literary works"; maps and architectural plans may be registered as "pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works." See "Copyright Basics" from the U.S. Copyright Office.
Copyright protections expire after a period of time legislated by Congress. Works of this nature and U.S. Government documents are said to be in the "public domain," meaning that you do not need to obtain a copyright owner's permission to use these materials. Works created by the U.S Government are afforded no copyright protection and can be freely used.
Some works are not subject to copyright law. Works created by the U.S. government may be freely copied. Works such as court opinions, records of legislative hearings, Congressional Committee reports, executive branch or agency reports, bulletins, circulars and studies are not protected by copyright and may be copied. Private publishers sometimes augment government texts by adding their own embellishments (for example, introductions, special formats, "headnotes," or brief summaries; these additions are subject to copyright protection.
Several other categories of material are generally not eligible for federal copyright protection. These include among others:
- Works that have not been fixed in a tangible form of expression (for example, choreographic works that have not been notated or recorded, or improvisational speeches or performances that have not been written or recorded);
- Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; familiar symbols or designs; mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, or coloring; mere listings of ingredients or contents;
- Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devices, as distinguished from a description, explanation, or illustration;
- Works consisting entirely of information that is common property and containing no original authorship (for example: standard calendars, height and weight charts, tape measures and rulers, and lists or tables taken from public documents or other common sources).
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