Have you ever heard of people illegally downloading music or movies? Activity such as this is an example of a copyright violation.
However, copyrights do not only protect music and films. They can be used to protect photographs, books, software code, blog posts and many other original works.
Copyrights are extremely important to creators who want to protect their work. People who wish to use these works may be just as interested in copyrights. That’s because it is recommended that those who want to use the creations of others obtain permission to do so. In fact, it’s not only recommended but also required by law.
How can you protect your original works? How can you be certain that you aren’t violating someone else’s copyright? Read on to learn more.
The Basics of Copyrights
Copyrights are one form of intellectual property, or IP. Other forms of IP include patents, trademarks and trade secrets.
This form of IP is used to protect “works of authorship.” Any work that is created and fixed in tangible form is automatically copyrighted in the U.S. This is true whether or not the work is actually registered with the U.S. Copyright Office.
Copyright protection provides exclusive rights to the owner of the work. Accordingly, the owner is protected against other people adapting, distributing or reproducing their work. If the owner wants to be able to protect their rights in the court system, then they must register the work with the U.S. Copyright Office.
What Is Copyright Infringement?
When someone exercises rights that actually belong to the copyright’s owner, infringement has occurred. Infringement may be any form of distribution, including a performance or sales. It does not matter whether the infringing party seeks monetary gain from the use or not.
What does copyright infringement look like?
It could be any of these:
- Distributing or selling t-shirts that feature an image that is copyrighted;
- Using someone else’s photographs on your website;
- Using your smart phone to record a film in the theater;
- Illegally downloading some songs;
- Downloading software that is under a license from an unauthorized website;
- Re-broadcasting a television show; or
- Publishing a video that features a copyrighted song.
When Is It Acceptable to Use Copyrighted Material?
Sometimes, it is legal and acceptable to use material that someone else owns. One example of this is via direct licensing.
Direct licensing typically involves contacting the copyright’s owner and asking them for permission to use their material. The owner can grant a license while still retaining ownership of the copyright. Moreover, the owner can set stipulations and restrictions, which may include payment for use of their protected material.
A legal doctrine known as fair use also can make it acceptable to use someone else’s copyrighted material. Fair use states that under certain conditions it may be possible to use copyrighted works without infringing someone else’s rights. Generally, the material must be used for educational, non-profit purposes. Perhaps the use only involves a small portion of the work or doesn’t harm the value of the copyright.
Fair use frequently shows up in academic settings, but it also may make an appearance in parodies or works of criticism or commentary. It is possible that the copyright’s owner will take exception to the use of their material, and the courts will use the guidelines of fair use to determine if actual infringement occurred.
Alternatively, a copyright owner may establish a Creative Commons license in association with the work. This means that it is possible for members of the public to make use of the copyrighted material, as long as they do so in cooperation with the Creative Commons license.
Sometimes, “works of authorship” become a part of the public domain. This means that the copyright has expired, the owner’s work was somehow not eligible for copyright protection or the owner has deliberately made the work available in the public domain. Thus, this material is publicly owned and can be used for virtually any purpose.
Claims for Copyright Infringement
Creators who are serious about protecting their work are encouraged to pursue copyright registrations. This gives them the ability to easily prove their ownership of the material and file legal claims to protect their rights.
In a claim of copyright infringement, the copyright owner needs to demonstrate the actions taken by the alleged infringer that violated the owner’s rights. Additionally, it is essential that the copyright owner be able to show that the alleged infringer’s actions went beyond the fair use doctrine. No proof that the owner suffered monetary damages is required.
Most copyright infringement cases are decided based on long-standing precedents and case law. They are heard in civil courts, and if the plaintiff prevails, they can stop the infringing actions and receive monetary compensation.
Have You Infringed Any Copyrights?
Some copyright infringements seem quite small and inconsequential, like using a photo that someone else took on your website. However, chances are good that this infringing use is a really big deal to the copyright owner.
Before illegally downloading a new song, take a moment to consider the rights of songwriter and the artist. If you are a creator and are concerned about how your work might be used without your permission, then it’s time to consider registering your works with the U.S. Copyright Office.
Contact Williams IP Law today to schedule an initial consultation.