Taking A Look Back At U.S. Copyright Law
Recent debates over pending new Internet copyright laws got me thinking about the history of American copyright law. Traditionally, changes in copyright statutes often mirror the technological growing pains of our nation. And as we stand here now, in the looming shadow of SOPA, and look back at our nation’s intellectual property track-record, it’s apparent that we have yet to break our reactionary, knee-jerk habit when it comes to rights’ protection.
This week, we’ll be posting a series of articles looking back at the history of copyright law in the United States. We’ll start off today with a brief overview of a few copyright law facts; on Thursday, we’ll delve into early U.S. copyright law (1790 – 1909); on Friday, we’ll take a look at international copyright standards enacted starting in 1976; and next Monday, our final installment will cover copyright laws passed in the 1990s and the proposed bills currently being considered in both the House and Senate.
(Be sure to book mark our blog to keep up with our copyright law series!)
U.S. Copyright Law and The Constitution
United States copyright law is authorized by Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 of the U.S. Constitution – also known as the copyright clause. It reads:
“The Congress shall have the power…To promote the Progress of Science and Useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”
An arm of the Library of Congress, the United States Copyright Office is responsible for all administrative duties associated with copyright registration and the like. Copyright law is primarily governed on the national level and state copyright laws cannot protect works that national copyright law does not.
U.S. Copyright Law: The Creativity Clause
In the United States, for a work to be considered appropriate for copyright protection, it must possess a “modicum of creativity.” As such, “sweat of the brow” efforts (i.e., labor, time and resources associated with compiling a phone book) are not protected under U.S. copyright statutes.
U.S. Copyright Law: Ideas are Off Limits
One of the most important facts to remember about copyright protection in the United States is that ideas cannot be copyrighted. The expression of an idea is protected, but not the idea itself. For example, an author can copyright a book that discusses democracy, but nobody owns the right to democracy itself (though some political pundits would try to convince you otherwise).
Internet Copyright Fun Fact: A link to an image isn’t considered reproduction, but simply instructions to a browser to jump to said location
U.S. Copyright Law: What Amount Constitutes Felony Infringement
Perpetrators caught with more than seven infringed copies of an audio-visual work, or 100 sound recordings, can be brought up on felony copyright charges. If you’re convicted of felony copyright and it’s your first offense, expect a fine of no more than $500,000 or imprisonment of 5 years or less. If it’s your second offense, double those figures.
Educational institutions, public broadcasting outlets and archives are all exempt from felony copyright charges.
U.S. Copyright Law: Registration and Damages
Registration is important if you’re looking to actively protect your copy rights. It’s necessary if you wish to obtain statutory damages in litigation. Moreover, while displaying the copyright mark is not necessary it’s smart to do so as it reduces the possibility of someone claiming “innocent infringement.”
In a copyright infringement case, a plaintiff can request for both statutory and actual damages, but cannot be awarded both – the Judge decides which is awarded.
Be sure to check back tomorrow, for a little early United States copyright law. Believe it or not, it won’t be boring. Hint: our founding fathers sure had a different opinion about copyright then we do now!