Understanding Copyright Laws


Understanding the world of copyright is often a confusing topic for many people, including the person who has created a work of art that is now protected under Copyright laws.

What is the basic law?
Copyright, “a form of intellectual property law, protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture”

Photography is included on this list of intellectual property.

The moment you click the shutter of your camera you have created an original work of authorship that is copyrighted and protected under the law.

In order for the author to gain full protection of the law they must register their work with the federal copyright office. Failure to do so does not change their ownership of created work. It just makes it harder for the author to seek retribution in the court of law.

How does an author of works protect their copyright?
A copyright notice is an identifier placed on copies of the work to inform the world of copyright ownership. The copyright notice generally consists of the symbol or word “copyright (or copr.),” the name of the copyright owner, and the year of first publication, e.g., ©2008 John Doe. While use of a copyright notice was once required as a condition of copyright protection, it is now optional.

What is Copyright infringement?
Copyright infringement occurs when a copyrighted work is reproduced, distributed, performed, publicly displayed, or made into a derivative work without the permission of the copyright owner. Usually without compensation to the original owner. Many times the infringement occurs without either party realizing that the law has been broken.

Two ways where copyright infringement is not available to protect created works. 1) is Work for Hire, 2) public domain
1) The general rule is that the person who creates the work is its author, there is an exception to that principle. The exception is a work made for hire, which is a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment or a work specially ordered or commissioned in certain specified circumstances. When a work qualifies as a work made for hire,
the employer, or commissioning party, is considered to be the author.

2)The public domain is not a place. A work of authorship is in the “public domain” if it is no longer under copyright protection or if it failed to meet the requirements for copyright protection. Works in the public domain may be used freely without the permission of the former copyright owner.

3 Common Ways Created Works are infringed

1) I did not know it was copyrighted.

copyright is a strict liability civil offense, which means that you are still liable even if you didn’t know you were infringing.If the created work contain a notification of copyright (i.e., the © symbol or even the word “copyright”) then any infringements are considered willful and subject to extra statutory penalties.

If you hired someone to take photos without signing a contract that specifically states that the photos will be “works made for hire,” then you do not own the photos. Works made for hire must be specifically contracted, and if your photographer didn’t specifically state that they would take the photographs as works made for hire, then your photographer owns their photographs. Just because you hired a photographer does not mean you own the photos.

If you are alive the created work is not in the public domain. Copyright terms last for the life of the author—plus 70 years. Created works do not fall into the public domain until after this term has expired.

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