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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What is a Copyright and What is Infringement?

In my last post, I talked about the beginnings of a copyright lawsuit between a Vermont small business man and a southern chain restaurant, but I failed to really explain copyright. Understanding copyright is important for writers, bloggers, and really anyone who creates anything ever (so, everyone) to know. Learning about copyrights can only help with protecting your creative property and making sure you do not infringe on anyone else's. In this post, I am going to focus just on the basics and in my next post I'll talk about different kinds of copyright licenses.

So, what is a copyright? According to the U.S. Copyright Office, "Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works." What this means is that anything original you create can be legally copyrighted as long as it is in a tangible form. You can write a dirty haiku on a napkin and copyright it. You can sing an original song and put in on tape and copyright it. You cannot copyright things like facts or ideas.

You are not legally required to register your creation. However, the only way to bring legal action against infringement is to get a legal copyright license. 

So, what is copyright infringement? Click & Copyright explains infringement well:
"Copyright infringement occurs when someone other than the copyright holder copies the 'expression' of a work. This means that the idea or information behind the work is not protected, but how the idea is expressed is protected. For example, there have been many movies about Pirates, but only one Jack Sparrow.
Copyright infringement can occur even if someone does not copy a work exactly. This example of copyright infringement is most easily apparent in music and art. Copyright infringement occurs if the infringing work is 'substantially similar' to the copyrighted work."
A good example of infringement is piracy--things like bootlegged DVDs and illegally downloaded music. Also, inadvertent infringement is still infringement.

In order for someone to use your copyrighted material or for you to use someone else's copyrighted material, they/you have to buy the rights. This allows and prohibits certain things, such as the right to distribute but not to modify. I'll get into this more in the next post when I discuss types of copyright licenses.  

I'm going to stop at this point for now. In summary, if you want to protect your creative property, make sure it is in a tangible form and think about getting an official, legal copyright. Also be sure not to infringe upon other people's creative property unless you have the rights to use it.

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