Several pieces of legislation regulate who may obtain a copyright, the works eligible for copyright, and the rights associated with the copyrighted material. A copyright protects intellectual property whether published or not. The copyright owner retains the right to the following actions:
1. Reproduction of work through copies or phonorecords
2. Preparation of derivative works based upon the original
3. Distribution of copies or phonorecords by sale, rental, lease, or lending
4. Publicly performing works of literature, music, pantomime, drama, choreography, motion pictures, and other audiovisual works
5. Publicly displaying works of literature, music, pantomime, drama, choreography, pictorial and graphic art, sculptures, motion pictures, and other audiovisual works
6. Performing sound recordings by means of digital audio transmission.
The “fair use” statute and “compulsory license” option give the public a limited range of ways to use copyrighted material without infringement worries.
The range of works covered by copyrights has grown since the first copyright legislation in 1790. Originally, copyright protection extended to only maps, charts, and books. The last piece of legislation to drastically alter the scope of copyright protection passed almost thirty-four years ago with the Copyright Act of 1976. Section 102 of the Act protects, “original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.” The Act extended copyright protection to the following:
1. Literary works
2. Musical works (including lyrics)
3. Dramatic works (including accompanying music)4. 4. Pantomimes and works of choreography
5. Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
6. Motion pictures and other audiovisual works
7. Sound recordings
8. Architectural works (added in 1990)
Legislation has made copyright protection automatic upon fixing the work in a tangible form. Authors receive crucial benefits from registering their copyright with the US Copyright Office, however. The most obvious benefit involves receipt of official certification of copyright for submitted work. In addition, the copyright becomes a part of public record. The most important benefit deals with defense from potential copyright infringement. A work registered with the Copyright Office may receive statutory damages and attorney’s fees in successful litigation. Also, if registration occurs within five years of publication of the work, a court of law considers it prima facie evidence. In the modern court system, prima facie indicates evidence that appears to be self-evident from the fact. Common law jurisdictions classify prima facie as evidence sufficient to prove a particular position, unless rebutted. Many people claim copyright registration by using the “poor man’s copyright” method. Unfortunately, copyright legislation makes no mention of this method and does not recognize it as a substitute for official registration with the Copyright Office.
To avoid confusion, the Copyright Office details potentially contested works ineligible for copyright protection. These works include the following:
1. Works not fixed in a tangible form of expression
2. Titles, names, short phrases, familiar symbols or designs
3. Simple variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering or coloring
4. Listing of ingredients or contents
5. Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, and devices as distinguished from description, explanation, or illustration
6. Works consisting entirely of information in the public domain without any original authorship
In addition, legislation and other acts of the government may not receive copyright protection. Legislation is meant for the public domain. Sorting out the extent of authorship contributions for legislation would present an immense problem. As mentioned above, ideas do not receive copyright protection. The general public has trouble grasping the concept that their brilliant idea must take tangible form before copyright protection becomes possible.
For more detailed information on the items covered by copyright and to find the facts used in writing this article, visit the Copyright Office website.