28 Oct Copyright Laws
A copyright is extremely easy to obtain. Under federal copyright laws, an author need only come up with an original work and then “fix it in a tangible medium of expression.” That’s it — you’ve automatically got a copyright in your new work, and the copyright lasts for your life plus seventy years.
But still, the definition is a bit hard to grasp without an example. Take this blog entry: I, the author, wrote this entry (the original work) and then put it into my blog page and clicked publish (fixing it in this tangible medium of expression). I now enjoy the bundle of exclusive rights that go along with a copyright; I have the rights to copy, distribute and perform (assuming it could be performed) this original work. My rights are only subject to the doctrine of “fair use,” which permits others’ limited use of the work for certain beneficial purposes (like research and teaching).
The breadth of copyrightable works is much larger than many people realize. Copyrights can cover not just written works, but include almost all original expressions that are recorded in some tangible form. Publications are obvious examples, but even computer programs, sculptures, films, choreography and almost all works of art. Stepping back for a moment, you start to realize that businesses can produce countless copyrightable works simply by performing their day-to-day operations.
There are often questions, especially in the business world, over who actually owns the copyright to an originally produced work. Remember, the copyright goes to the “author” of the work. The author is the person who creates the work, except in a work-for-hire relationship, where the author is instead the person for whom the work was prepared. The distinction is basically between employees and independent contractors. Employees who create original works within the scope of their employment fall under the work-for-hire category, making the employer the author. Independent contractors, instead, are the authors of their own work, even if paid by someone else to create it.
As you can imagine, whether someone is an employee or independent contractor can often be a hotly contested issue, especially in the case of a valuable copyrighted work. Written agreements can be made before creating the work, and should be considered when the employer or creator of the work anticipates any later confusion over ownership.
As an additional option for additional reading, see this helpful guide by the United States Copyright Office on copyright basics.
Author: Andrew Harris
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