Copyright law varies slightly around the world, but on the whole it protects the rights of authors and creators of original works and affords them the opportunity to benefit from their creation. The type of work that copyright law protects may include:
- literary or written works
- dramatic, including accompanying music
- pantomimes and choreographic
- pictorial, graphic and sculptural
- motion pictures and other audiovisual
- sound recordings, and
- architectural designs
In the USA protection is granted to the creators by the United States Code on Copyright and in order to avoid any problems with infringing someone else’s copyright it is important to understand the basics. For something to be covered by copyright law in the USA the following issues have to be taken into consideration:
The notification of copyright which should include the copyright symbol © or the word copyright or an abbreviation of the word copyright as in copr. It must also include the year of first publication of the work and the name of the owner of the copyright. Therefore the copyright to this website would read ‘© 200x, Linda Parkinson-Hardman’
The duration of copyright. How long copyright lasts for as these time scales change. If the item was created before 1978 then the copyright would expire 75 years after publication and if it were never published then the copyright expired on 31 December 2002. However, if the item was created after 1977 then two factors come into play.
Firstly, if it is privately owned (say by me) then it is the length of my life plus another 50 years and if it were owned by someone else, say an employer or publisher then it is 75 years from the date of publication or 100 years from the date of creation – whichever comes first.
However, it is important to note that the United States joined the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works in 1989. The Berne Convention is an international copyright treaty signed by 96 countries. The regulations are far more stringent than current US copyright laws and it has recently extended the term of protection to the life of the author plus 75 years.
It should be bourne in mind however, that there is also something called a Fair Use allowance which is often used with academic circles for certain purposes such as research, review, news, reporting and teaching (this is not an exhaustive list). What Fair Use ensures is that a work can have a limited amount of it copied free of charge or infringement of copyright. The following four considerations need to be made:
- purpose and character of use, whether of a commercial nature or for non profit educational purposes;
- the nature of the copyrighted work;
- the amount and substantially of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
- the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
In the UK however, copyright is grated automatically as soon as a original work is created. You do not need to show the copyright notice to have copyright on your work, although it may be helpful to do so. The Copyright Act of 1976 states that and original expression is eligible for copyright protection as soon as it is fixed in a tangible form. This applies equally to the ebook you have just written or to the image you have just created in photoshop. Equally the coding that is used to define the layout of your webpage or website is equally covered by copyright. Other creations that you may come across on the web that are protected include sound files, computer programmes, email messages, and photographs.
In order to protect your interests, it is advisable to register your work with the Copyright Office in the US, this may also be the case if your work is being sold or distributed in the US even though you may live elsewhere in the world.
How might copyright law affect your online business? This can be a complicated area to consider, but things that might be relevant might include any original works such as papers, reports and ebooks you have listed on your site (are you certain you have the right to redistribute them?); any images you might be using in your logo’s or as buttons (have you purchased the right to use them or is it implied in the use of a computer programme); the software that you use to run your site may well be proprietorial and if you choose to change your hosting or design company then you may not get permission to transfer the site as it stands; the content that you are using on your site, have you created it or are you taking it from another site?
There are many ways to become unstuck around copyright law. For instance I once worked with a printing supplies firm who were providing a local school with transfer paper that they could use to put images onto tee-shirts which they then sold to raise funds for the school, the only problem was that the images they were using were well known logos and brand names such as coca-cola and nike.
You can find out more about copyright from these links: