The United States affords protection to the authors of certain original works as provided by the United States Code on Copyright. In order to avoid the problems involved in copyright infringement it is important to understand the fundamentals of copyright law.
Three important points
- The notice of copyright
- Just what does copyright protect
- The duration of copyright
Notice Of Copyright
It is not necessary to attach a copyright notice to a work in order for that work to be copyrighted. However, in order to be eligible for certain damages in a lawsuit, the copyright notice must be attached.
A copyright notice should contain
- the symbol © (THE LETTER C IN A CIRCLE), or the word “Copyright” or the abbreviation “Copr.”, and;
- the year of first publication of the work, and;
- the name of the owner of copyright in the work.
Example: ©1997 Jane Doe
What Types of Work Does Copyright Protect?
Copyright protects original works of expression. These works include:
- dramatic, including accompanying music
- pantomimes and choreographic
- pictorial, graphic and sculptural
- motion pictures and other audiovisual
- sound recordings, and
Duration of Copyright
- published: Copyright expires 75 years from the date of publication
- not published: Copyright expires 12/31/02
1978 through present
- individually owned: life of author plus 50 years
- owned by employer of author: 75 years from date of publication or 100 years from date of creation, whichever occurs first.
In 1989 the United States joined the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. The Berne Convention is an international copyright treaty signed by 96 countries. The regulations are far more stringent than United States copyright laws. The Berne Convention recently extended the term of protection to the life of the author plus 75 years. The United States law is expected to follow suit.
See 17 United States Code Section 107- Limitations on Exclusive Rights: Fair Use-
For certain purposes, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In making this determination of fair use these 4 factors must be considered:
- purpose and character of use, whether of a commercial nature or for nonprofit educational purposes;
- the nature of the copyrighted work;
- the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
- the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
Public domain is a legal term which refers to the end of term of copyright and thereafter. You can be certain that you would never come across any erotic photography on the web that would be considered public domain. Remember, copyright begins with the creator of a work (a photo, an article, etc.) and continues through that author’s life plus 50 years. Only then is that work in the “public domain”. Anyone who simply puts up sites with photos they grabbed elsewhere off the Internet is most certainly infringing someone’s copyrights. You can be certain that this includes all celebrity images as well. A celebrity image with all applicable model releases would allow the copyright owner economic freedom to sell or assign the rights to that image.
The Public Domain is made up of all those works, that for whatever reason are not protected by copyright Works in the Public Domain are free to use without permission. These include:
- originally non-copyrightable
- expired copyright
- authored by the Federal Government
- specifically granted to the Public Domain