What is copyright infringement?
Copyright infringement occurs when someone other than the copyright holder copies
the “expression” of a work. This means that the idea or information behind the work
is not protected, but how the idea is expressed is protected. For example, there
have been many movies about Pirates, but only one Jack Sparrow.
Copyright infringement can occur even if someone does not copy a work exactly. This
example of copyright infringement is most easily apparent in music and art. Copyright
infringement occurs if the infringing work is “substantially similar” to the copyrighted
COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT OCCURS WHEN THE COPYRIGHT OWNER'S RIGHTS ARE VIOLATED
To fully understand copyright infringement, you must understand what rights you
hold as a copyright holder. You own more than just the rights to reproduce the work
filed with the US Copyright Office.
An owner of a copyright owns a “bundle” of rights. Each of these rights can be sold
or assigned separately. Copyright infringement occurs when one of those rights are
used without the express consent of the copyright owner. The rights owned by the
owner of a copyright include:
The Right to Reproduce the Work. This is the right to reproduce, copy, duplicate
or transcribe the work in any fixed form. Copyright infringement would occur if
someone other than the copyright owner made a copy of the work and resold it.
The Right to Derivative Works. This is the right to modify the work to create
a new work. A new work that is based upon an existing work is a "derivative work."
Copyright infringement would occur here if someone wrote a screenplay based on his
favorite John Grisham book and sold or distributed the screenplay, or if someone
releases or remixes of one of your songs without your consent.
The Right to Distribution. This is simply the right to distribute the work
to the public by sale, rental, lease or lending. The music industry lawsuits targeting
file-sharing web services claim that these services violate the right to distribution
held by record labels.
The Public Display Right. This is the right to show a copy of the work directly
to the public by hanging up a copy of the work in a public place, displaying it
on a website, putting it on film or transmitting it to the public in any other way.
Copyright infringement occurs here if the someone other than the copyright holder
offers a work for public display.
The Public Performance Right. This is the right to recite, play, dance, act
or show the work at a public place or to transmit it to the public. Copyright infringement
would occur here if someone decided to give performances of the musical "Oliver!"
without obtaining permission from the owner.
WHAT ACTS DO NOT CONSTITUTE COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT - THE EXCEPTIONS
There are three exceptions to the copyright infringement rules, which allow one
to reproduce another's work without obtaining a license or assignment of rights:
Fair Use. This is a doctrine which permits the reproduction of copyrighted
material for a limited purpose of teaching, reviewing, literary criticism and the
like. Without the “fair use” doctrine, books and movies could not be reviewed and
colleges and high schools would not be able to study works by people like Arthur
Miller. This is also how television programs such as The Daily Show are able to
use copyrighted material in their commentary. "Fair use," however, is determined
on a case-by-case basis.
Public Domain. This refers to works which are no longer covered by copyright
law. For example, the song “The Star-Spangled Banner” can be performed without ever
paying license fees to anyone because the copyright has expired.
Click here to learn how long a copyright lasts
Non-Copyrightable Works. Copyright infringement cannot occur when someone
uses material that cannot be protected by copyright, such as facts or ideas. However,
if someone puts a bunch of facts into the form of a book (e.g. The Farmer’s Almanac),
copying all or part of that book would constitute copyright infringement.
HOW YOU CAN AVOID COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT OF YOUR WORK
The most important first step you can take to avoid copyright infringement of your
own work is to register your work with the US Copyright Office. If you discover
that there has been copyright infringement involving your work and you haven’t registered
with the US Copyright Office, you won’t even be able to commence a lawsuit for the
copyright infringement until you have registered the copyright to your work.
DON'T RISK COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT—COPYRIGHT
YOUR WORK NOW!
Preventing copyright infringement is not easy. With technology, virtually anything
can be copied easily and nearly perfectly. One way to combat potential copyright
infringement is to occasionally do Google searches by entering some blocks of text
and/or images from your work. If the infringers have your work displayed or for
sale on the Net, chances are you can find it. Then report the copyright infringement
to the infringer’s ISP immediately. Depending on the seriousness of the copyright
infringement, you may want to consider hiring a lawyer to send a cease-and-desist
TAKE THE FIRST STEP AGAINST COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT—COPYRIGHT
YOUR WORK NOW!