United States Copyright Law: Short, Sweet & Accurate Explanation

U.S. copyright law explanation

U.S. copyright law is dense, but below is brief guide meant to provide a general overview.

Anyone who creates an original work (e.g., a piece of writing, music, physical art, architectural work, etc.) is entitled to copyrights on that creation. A copyright is a legal guarantee which confers exclusive rights to the creator of an original work.

Under copyright laws, the creator of an original work is given the right to:

  • copy and reproduce their own work,
  • be credited for its use,
  • perform the work in a public setting, and
  • restrict unauthorized use of the original work.

As an intellectual property right, a copyright is similar to a trademark or patent and can be applied to any substantive form of information.

Copyright Law: Infringement

Copyright infringement is when a third party reproduces — and profits off of — a copyrighted work. Even if the work is not copied identically, copyright infringement penalties may still apply.

For example, let’s say that  song A samples recognizable parts of song B; if the proper usage licenses are not obtained for authorized use, the producers of song A can be hit with a copyright infringement claim.

Copyright Law: Transference

Copyright holders can sell or assign their rights to another person or company. If there exists express consent from the creator of the original work, usage of the work by the authorized party is not an occurrence of copyright infringement.

Copyright Law: Duplication Rights

As the holder of the copyright, the person or company may reproduce or duplicate a work in any fashion, for personal and commercial purposes. Owner also has the right to distribute the copyrighted work however they see fit – whether by putting it on sale to the public, leasing it or even lending it to someone else temporarily.

If copyright holders wish to create derivative works from the original work, they have that exclusive right as well. For example, a film studio may not create a movie based on a book without the book author’s express permission. In the example of music, musicians or producers may create a remix of their own original pieces, while remixes created by someone else would be considered copyright infringement.

Copyright Law: Performance Rights

Copyright holders have the exclusive right to display copies of their works in public, on the Internet, ins movie or by any other means. They also have a right to public performance. However, copyrights expire after a certain amount of time, so holding a copyright to an original work does not guarantee that the work will never be reproduced or distributed by anyone else. There are additional exceptions for fair use.

Copyright Law: Fair Use Doctrine

The Fair Use doctrine allows reproduction of copyrighted works for certain, specific purposes, such as for reviews, satire and teaching. This allows schools to study literary works, movie critics to publish reviews and television shows to use clips of news broadcasts from other channels.
If you are a creator of an original work, your work is copyrighted at the moment it is created. However, to reduce the chances of copyright infringement, you should register your creation at the United States Copyright Office, as you can’t exercise infringement proceedings if you haven’t registered your copyright. To find out more about your online copyrights, contact a copyright law attorney.

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