Copyright Basics – What Does Copyright Do?
The first step to copyright basics is understanding what types of works you can copyright. A copyright is a statement that you are the author and owner of a creative work. You can copyright all of the following types of works:
- Books and other written works, including plays and screenplays
- Visual artworks
- Audio recordings
- Audiovisual recordings, including video games
The copyright gives you exclusive control over the distribution and adaptation of your work. When an author copyrights his or her work, the copyright lasts until 70 years after the author’s death.
When is it Legal to Use Copyrighted Material?
The purpose of copyright is to stop people other than the author from taking credit for the author’s work. A person cannot make money off of the author’s ideas without the author getting his or her fair share of the profits. If you own the copyright to your work and someone uses it without your permission, you can sue for copyright infringement. For example, if you write new lyrics to the tune of “Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road,” and your new song goes to the top of the charts, Elton John can sue you for copyright infringement.
US Copyright law is complex. Part of copyright basics is understanding the fair use doctrine. Although copyright law contains a “fair use” doctrine, it does not clearly define fair use. Generally speaking, the courts typically interpret it to mean the use of the work by other parties in a way that does not cause the author financial losses or damage his or her reputation. For example, fair use is when a teacher photocopies a chapter of a copyrighted book and distributes it to students to read as a class assignment. Likewise, you are free to perform a cover of a Simon and Garfunkel song at a school talent show or open mic night. These are non-commercial uses. The law also considers it fair use when writing fan-fiction about copyrighted characters and posting it publicly online. In this situation, there is no exchange of money. If you want to publish new works about copyrighted characters and make money, you need permission from the copyright owners.
Copyrighting Your Work is a Step to Becoming a Professional Writer or Artist
Knowing the copyright basics can only help you as a creative professional. Writers, musicians, video game designers, and other creative people deserve protection against other people stealing their work. Contact A People’s Choice to have a registered legal document assistant prepare and file your copyright application. Call us today at 800-747-2780.
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