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Copyrights Law in Review

A copyright is the exclusive right to print, reproduce, sell, and exhibit written material, musical compositions, art works, photographs, movies and television programs, data systems, and other creations placed in a tangible, preserved medium of expression. This exclusive right also extends to the public distribution, display or performance of that copyrighted work and to the preparation of derivative works (e.g. a movie version of a copyrighted novel).

Copyright Validity

A copyright lasts for the life of the creator, plus 25 years in some countries and 50 in others. Neither publication nor registration is required to secure a copyright. But without registration, a person claiming copyright infringement can only win actual damages (including lost profits). Plaintiffs with registered works may also win attorneys' fees and statutory damages awards.

What is Copyrightable?

Copyrightable works are: books, periodicals, lectures, musical compositions, works of art, maps, photographs, dramatic works, movies, illustrations

What is Not Copyrightable?

Non-copyrightable works are: names, familiar phrases, government publications, standardized information (e.g. calendars), and defamatory, obscene or fraudulent works.

Using a Copyright

Unlike the situation for patents, the exclusivity of copyrights, as to use, is subject to a number of exceptions. The two most important are these:

(1)  Fair use: This exception includes, among other things, limited reproduction for classroom purposes. To determine whether the use is fair, these four factors are considered:

-  purpose and nature of the use (e.g., non-profit or educational vs. commercial);

-  proportion or importance of the part used in comparison to the work as a whole;

-  the nature of the work; and,

-  the use's effect on the value of the work, including its potential market

(2)   Limited copying by libraries and archives. They usually can reproduce single copies for non-commercial purposes. Wholesale copying of large works or periodicals, though, is not allowed. Like other forms of intellectual property, copyrights protect, not ideas, but only the tangible expression of ideas.