Copyright laws protect original works, but not ideas or facts. The Copyright Act of 1976 grants exclusive rights to the copyright holder. A copyright protects original works such as: literary works, musical works, dramatic works, pantomimes & choreographed works, pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works, motion pictures and other audiovisual works, sound recordings, architectural works, compilations (databases for example), written words on a website, and software programs on a website. The copyright holder has exclusive rights such as reproduction, derivative works (being allowed to alter it), distribution, performance, display, audio & video transmission.
Copyright is automatically created on original works. You do not need to file to create a copyright. But it may be a good idea to file a copyright to establish a public record of it and if you ever want to pursue an infringement suit, it will need to have been filed. You can visit copyright.gov/forms to download a copyright form. A common-law copyright is created automatically on publication, so registration is not required to use the © symbol. The proper way to state that something is copyrighted is to use the © symbol, the copyright or abbreviated version (Copr.), the year of first publication, and the name of the copyright owner. For example: © Copyright 2007 Off the Page Creations.
Copyrights that were created after January 1, 1978 have protection during the life of the author plus 70 years. In the case of more than one author, the period of protection is the term of 70 years after the death of the last surviving member. In a case of ‘Work-Made-For-Hire’, the protection term is 95 years from first publication or 120 years from the year of creation (whichever comes first). Once copyrights expire they become part of the public domain and are free to use by anyone. But don’t assume just because something doesn’t have a copyright symbol, that it is free to use.
In a ‘Work-Made-For-Hire’ the person that hires someone to create (design a logo for example) something for them, the person hiring is the person who holds the copyright, not the designer or author. If the work was prepared by an employee within his job duties as requested by his/her boss and not for a customer, the employer holds the copyright because the employee was hired to do it for the employer and it was part of his/her job duties.
An odd variation to the ‘Work-Made-For-Hire’ rule is websites (including the ‘look & feel’, the software, scripts, graphics & the text). If someone hires a web designer to create their website, the website designer holds the copyright, unless it is specified otherwise in the contract. Most companies state that the hiring party holds the contract (as we state in our contract), but it’s a good idea to verify who will hold copyright to the website before signing anything.
‘Fair Use’ allows limited use of a copyrighted work. Some examples of what are considered ‘fair use’ are: teaching, criticism, comment, news reporting, and research. Only a court can decide if a copyrighted works use was considered ‘fair use’.
What You Can’t Do
- Copy pictures to use on your brochure or website that you found on the internet (even if you put up the copyright line of who holds the copyright, this is considered infringement)
- Purchase a license to use a photo on your brochure, then continue to use it on your website, flyers, and postcards unless it is stated in the license
- Copy text out of a book or off from a website and use it verbatim
- Put music on your website without permission
- Post an article without permission, even if it’s about you
- Use an image by linking to it rather than copying it (This is still copyright infringement)
What You Should Do
- Purchase photos to use that are ‘copyright free’ and follow the license for the uses
- Or get permission from the copyright holder to use photos
- Purchase ‘copyright free’ music and follow the license for the uses
- Get permission to use articles from the writer & publisher
- You should ask permission to link to someone’s website
Copyright infringers may face civil liability and also criminal liability for felony copyright infringement if it is willful, and for financial gain, or by reproducing and distributing a large amount.