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“What is Copyright?”

A commonly asked question but frequently misunderstood.

So what is copyright??

In an effort to debunk the mystery – here are 5 key pieces of copyright information that all copyright creators should know:


1. The Essence of Copyright: Protection, Protection, Protection

Copyright protects original works from being used without permission from the author or owner. More specifically, copyright is a set of exclusive rights granted to the owner of the copyright for a limited time. These rights include:

  • producing or reproducing the work or any substantial part thereof
  • permitting the reproduction of the work or any substantial part thereof
  • performing the work or any substantial part thereof
  • publishing the work or any substantial part thereof

In other words, if you are the owner of a work, you own the rights to produce or reproduce the work. Equally as important, you also have the right to either, refuse reproduction if other people want to use your work or allow them to use it by granting a license or transferring the copyright to another party.

In some cases, the creator of the copyright may not be the owner of copyright in that work (i.e.: if someone commissions you to write a book; if you wrote a piece of software as part of the scope of your employment). It is important to know if you own the copyright to the work, as this affects your rights.


2. How to Copyright Something – It’s easier than you think!

Copyright arises automatically upon an author’s or creator’s expression of an idea in an original, fixed form (i.e.: on paper, CD, floppy disk, etc…). In other words, the answer to ‘how to copyright something’ is to simply put original work in a fixed/tangible form.

Ex: If you write the lyrics and notes to a song on a napkin, it is copyrighted and you own the rights.

However, unless you can prove you are the original creator of the song, you may run into expensive and time-consuming legal problems defending your work in the event of infringement.

As such, the key to improved copyright protection is REGISTERING YOUR WORK.


3. What is Protected by Copyright?

Copyright protects ‘Original works of authorship’ that are fixed in a tangible form of expression.
Copyright generally falls into one of the following categories:

  • Literary (novels, short stories, plays, song lyrics, computer software source code)
  • Artistic/Visual Arts (sculpture, drawing, illustration, graphic design, plans, maps, photographs, architectural work)
  • Dramatic (films, videos, choreography),
  • Musical (musical composition with or without words)

Other works may also apply, such as:

  • Sound Recordings (recordings of music, drama, or lectures. Does not include soundtracks)
  • Serial & Periodicals (periodicals, newspapers, magazines, bulletins, newsletters, annuals, journals, proceedings of societies)


4. What is Not Protected by Copyright?

Copyright protects the expression of an idea in a fixed form – but not the idea itself. In other words, 100 people can write a book about ‘writing techniques’ but they cannot use the exact same word structure when describing it, as this would be infringing on someone’s actual expression of the idea.

Other works not protected by copyright include:

  • ideas
  • names
  • titles
  • slogans
  • concepts
  • factual information
  • themes
  • catch-phrases
  • methods of doing something
  • general plots or characters (although some specific plot progressions and characters may be protected).
  • aws, regulations government documents, legislative reports and judicial opinions


5. The Duration of Copyright

Copyright duration depends on a number of factors including:

  • when the work was created
  • the type of work (literary, visual, musical, etc…)
  • the number of authors and whether they remained anonymous or used pseudonyms
  • whether the work was made for hire
  • the country where it was created

As a general rule for ‘newer works’ (a work created on or after January 1st, 1978) most countries follow either the “life-plus-fifty’ rule or the “life-plus-seventy” rule:

  • Life-plus-fifty = the life of the author + remainder of the calendar year in which they passed + fifty years following the end of that calendar year. After this time, the work falls into the “public domain”.
  • Countries who follow this rule: Canada
  • Life-plus-seventy = the life of the author + remainder of the calendar year in which they passed + seventy years following the end of that calendar year. After this time, the work falls into the “public domain”.
  • Ex: United States, United Kingdom , Australia and European Union

When more than one author exists, the final 50 or 70 years of the copyright protection begins once the last surviving author passes.

Kate Henderson is an Entertainment and Intellectual Property lawyer who reviews this Copyright Creators articles. The above is meant as a guide to further your copyright knowledge and does not constitute legal advice. For questions about your specific work, you should consult a copyright lawyer in your country.

Copyright Creators (www.copyrightcreators.com), a service inspired by the shortfalls of ‘poor man’s copyright’.  Copyright Creators protects copyright for life with no membership or renewal fees.  Visit Copyright Creators today and you’ll receive 4 free registrations to protect & create proof of your copyright online.

2 Responses to “What is Copyright? - Copyright Explained in 5 Easy Tips”

  1. [...] For more information on copyright, click here. [...]

  2. Stephen says:

    Thanks for posting this. Very informative!

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