The purpose of copyright

Copyright grants a set of exclusive rights to copyright owners, which means that no one else can copy, distribute, publicly perform, adapt, or do almost anything else other than simply view or read the work without permission of the copyright holder.

The "exclusive rights"

  • Economic rights "allow right owners to derive financial reward from the use of their works by others."
  • Moral rights "allow creators to take certain actions to preserve and protect their link with their work."

What can be copyrighted?

  • Literary and artistic works (e.g., paintings and blog posts) that "meet a certain standard of originality"
  • "Different countries frame the test in different ways, but it is often either considered a test of originality or authorial presence. Generally speaking, this means the work must have been a creation of its creator and not copied from another work."

What can NOT be copyrighted?

Copyright does not protect facts or ideas themselves, only the expression of those facts or ideas. [...] While copyright law gives creators control over their expression of an idea, it does not allow the copyright holder to own or exclusively control the idea itself.

The relationship between copyright and other methods of protecting "intellectual property"

  • Trademark law generally allows the holder of a trademark "to prevent uses of its trademark by others if the public will be confused," helping both to "protect their reputation" and "the public by giving them a simple way to differentiate between similar products and services"
  • Patent law "gives inventors a time-limited monopoly to their inventions"

How does a person receive copyright protection for their work?

As a general rule, copyright is automatic the moment a work is created, though some countries require that the work be fixed in a tangible medium before granting copyright. In countries that require fixation, such as the United States, you do not have a copyright until you type your poem, record a song, or otherwise capture your work in a fixed form.

  • Note that "registration is not required to gain copyright protection."

"Work-for-hire" and other contexts

  • "This [common law] doctrine generally provides that if you have created a copyrightable work within the scope of your employment, the employer is the owner of, and controls, the economic rights in the copyrighted work. In many civil law countries, such as France and Germany, the law presumes that copyright vests with the employee-author, unless an empoyment contract dictates or implies otherwise."
  • Depending on the terms of their contract, "independent contractors may or may not own and control copyright in the works they create in that capacity."
  • "Teachers, university faculty, and learners may or may not own and control copyright in the works they create in those capacities."
  • If you have co-created a single original work that is subject to copyright, you may be a joint owner, rather than an exclusive owner, of the rights granted by copyright law. Joint ownership generally prohibits one author from exploiting a work without the consent of the others"

What is the public domain?

  • Global aspects of copyright: "A work might be in the public domain in one country, but not in another one."
  • "After a set term, the copyright expires and the work enters the public domain for everyone to copy, adapt, and share. Likewise, there are certain types of works that fall outside the scope of copyright." That being said, "moral rights may continue to exist" for such works.
  • Works can enter the public domain in any one of four ways:
    1. The copyright expires (i.e., country-dependent)
    2. The work was never entitled to copyright protection (e.g., "official texts of a legislative, administrative, and legal nature" per the Berne Convention)
    3. The creator dedicates the work to the public domain (i.e., before the copyright expires) using a legal tool like the CC Zero Public Domain Dedication.
    4. The creator "failed to adhere to formalities" in acquiring or maintaining their copyright: rare because "today in most countries, there are no formal requirements to acquire or renew copyright protection."

Exceptions and limitations to copyright

Some limitations and exceptions itemize the specific sector beneficiary of the exception and the conditions in which the exception can be applied.

  • Education-specific exceptions
  • Exceptions for people with disabilities (e.g., accessible formats)
  • "Fair use"

As a general guideline, exceptions [emphasis added] to copyright are free, while limitations [emphasis added] to copyright are subject to payment.

See also: Free culture and software and additional resources from the Creative Commons Certificate program