What is Copyright?

The following are 7 basics laws of Copyright  

1. Know the scope of copyright law. It does protect literary works, paintings, photographs, drawings, films, music, lyrics, sculptures and many other things. Except in literary fiction, it does not protect the underlying ideas, and it does not protect facts.  

2. A symbol is not needed © to be copyrighted. Almost everything on the Internet, and everywhere else, is copyrighted, by default. It is also not necessary for copyright in a work to be registered; this simply makes it easier to be compensated in court. Without an explicit dedication to the public domain, assume that it is still under copyright. There is a quirk in the United States’ implementation of the Berne Convention: works first published before 1978 without a copyright notice may be public domain in the United States.  

3. There is a difference between copyrights, trademarks, and other forms of “intellectual property.” The term “intellectual property” itself, and the kind of thinking it encourages, has led to these very different things being confused with each other. Trademarks forbid using certain words, marks, symbols, and so on within certain contexts, to protect consumers from misrepresentation.  

4. One does not get a copyright without some creativity. You cannot scan a photograph from a magazine and then put it on the Internet; the copyright would still reside with the author of the work. The flip-side of this is that scanning a work which is in the public domain would not, in many jurisdictions, give you the copyright over the resulting scan. This does not generate a new copyright. This would be a derivative work of the video or computer program.  
5. Know the public domain laws for your jurisdiction. “Public domain” is short-hand for “uncopyrighted”, not “publicly distributed”. A work can be out of copyright due to age, by the nature of authorship, or other reasons.  

6. Understand what “fair use” is, and what it isn’t. Called “fair dealing” in many jurisdictions, fair use is simply a guarantee that copyright laws do not infringe freedom of speech and make critical commentary impossible. Fair use is an extremely complex body of case law; it is often very difficult for non-lawyers to tell in advance whether or not a certain use will be considered fair use in court. If in doubt, seek permission first.  

7. The law about derivative works as pertains to fiction. It was said above that “ideas cannot be copyrighted.” This is not entirely true; fictional characters, story-lines, and settings can be copyrighted. This means that fan-fiction, drawings of characters from copyrighted works, and so on are all technically copyright infringements. Sometimes copyright holders turn a blind eye to this sort of thing, but unless it has been explicitly authorized, don’t count on this being the case.

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