Copyright Law

Copyright is intended to ensure that the rights to make use of creation is reserved to the creator. Although, in every case it might not be the creator themselves with the exclusively reserved rights. For example, institutions that employ the creator my hold copyright to creations resulted as a part of work. This provision is backed by copyright laws. This is just one instance where we think copyright laws are straightforward to understand, but there are nuances that everyone who cares should know. This articles covers some of the subtleties.

Why do we need copyright laws?

Copyright law has two primary rationales: i) Utilitarian rationale encourages creation of new works by providing copyright as an incentive to authors, and ii) Author’s right rationale ensures attribution for authors and preserves integrity of creative works [1]. It is also important to know the moral rights associated with copyright, viz the right to be recognized as the author of the work (“right of paternity”), and the right to protect the work’s integrity such that the work is used in ways creators would be opposed of [1].

What is copyrightable and what’s not?

The simplest distinction between what’s copyrightable and what’s not is whether it’s an idea or an expression of an idea. Expressions are copyrightable, ideas are not. According to Section 102(b) of the Copyright Act of 1976, no “idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery” is eligible for copyright protection. Copyright law generally protects the fixation of an idea in a “tangible medium of expression,” not the idea itself, or any processes or principles associated with it [2]. For example, say you write a poem. The poem in its entirety is copyrightable. However, a poem is more than a uniquely structured collection of words. There are processes and techniques behind it. You cannot copyright a metaphor or a rhyme used in a poem, but the poem as soon as it is written is copyrightable.

How does copyright compare to other intellectual property protections?

Besides copyright, trademark law and patent law also help protect intellectual property. Trademark law is for protecting symbols that represent brands while patents are for inventions. Choosing between the measures of protecting intellectual property depends on the type of creation.

How does a person receive copyright protection for their work?

Copyright protections are territorial. Most nations have signed the 2012 Berne convention, and whenever one creates material and distributes to other nations, the artifact is protected by copyright protections of boundaries in which it is being distributed.

What is the public domain?

Public domain refers to works that have no copyright restriction. Works in the public domain can be used for commercial purposes, shared, derivated and more without even needing to attribute original creator. Creative Commons uses CC0 licenses for public domain works. After copyright expires, works automatically become part of public domain.

Are there exemptions to copyright?

While copyright protects creators, sometimes it hinders everyday activities. To make it easy to use copyrighted material without significantly harming the creator, fair use has been in practice. For example, using a paragraph of a copyrighted textbook for a lecture can be classified as fair use. It would be too tedious to get permissions for one lecture. The effort would not be worth it. As specified by the Berne convention, t shall be a matter for legislation in the countries of the Union to permit the reproduction of such works in certain special cases, provided that such reproduction does not conflict with a normal exploitation of the work and does not unreasonably prejudice the legitimate interests of the author [1].


[1] “What everyone needs to know about copyright law ”is a derivative of the September 2019 Creative Commons Certificate Course by Creative Commons, licensed CC BY 4.0. Kshitiz Khanal adapted content from the Creative Commons Certificate Course Unit 2 on copyright law, adding it to his essay on copyright law.

[2] Idea vs. Expression – What is protected under copyright law? By Zachary Strebeck via accessed 6/25/2020

License: Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Written on June 25, 2020