What is Copyright?

Copyright is a type of intellectual property that protects original works of authorship as soon as an author fixes the work in a tangible form of expression. In copyright law, there are a lot of different types of works, including paintings, photographs, illustrations, musical compositions, sound recordings, computer programs, books, poems, blog posts, movies, architectural works, plays, and so much more!

Original Works

Works are original when they are independently created by a human author and have a minimal degree of creativity. Independent creation simply means that you create it yourself, without copying. The Supreme Court has said that, to be creative, a work must have a “spark” and “modicum” of creativity. There are some things, however, that are not creative, like: titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; familiar symbols or designs; mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, or coloring; and mere listings of ingredients or contents. And always keep in mind that copyright protects expression, and never ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, or discoveries.

song lyrics, manuscripts, manuals, computer programs, commercial documents, leaflets, newsletters & articles etc.

plays, dance, etc.

recordings and score.

photography, painting, sculptures, architecture, technical drawings/diagrams, maps, logos.

Typographical arrangement of published editions
magazines, periodicals, etc.

Sound recording
may be recordings of other copyright works, e.g. musical and literary.

video footage, films, broadcasts and cable programmes.

International protection:

Copyright is recognised all over the world, and international conventions guarantee a minimum level of protection in most countries, the most important of which is the Berne Convention.

While details of copyright law will vary between nation states, the Berne Convention lays down a common framework and agreement between nations in respect to intellectual property rights.

An author from any country that is a signatory of the convention is awarded the same rights in all other countries that are signatories to the Convention as they allow their own nationals, as well as any rights granted by the Convention.

The Convention also sets out a minimum duration that copyright will apply in various types of work.

How long does copyright last?

The duration of copyright will vary from country to country, but the Berne Convention dictates a minimum duration that all signatory states should grant in their national laws.

Normal protection provided by the Berne Convention is for the lifetime of the individual that created the work plus fifty years, with the following exceptions:

Film, cinematographic work:

50 years from the making of the work, or if made available to the public within the 50 years, (i.e. by publication or performance), 50 years from the date the author first makes the work available to the public.

Anonymous works:

50 years from the date made available to the public.

Artistic works, such as photographs and applied art:

At least 25 years from creation.

Duration will always run from January 1st of the year following the event indicated.

Where a work is authored by more that one individual, the duration will be the lifetime of the last surviving author plus 50 years.

Note: In all cases, individual national laws can, and often will, allow additional protection over and above the terms of the Convention. For example, in the UK most work is protected for the life of the author plus 70 years. There are also exceptions allowed for countries bound by the Rome Act.

What happens when copyright expires?

When the term of copyright protection has expired, the work falls into the public domain. This means that the work, has effectively become public property and may be used freely. This is how so many companies can publish works by William Shakespeare, classical composers etc.

What is fair use or fair dealing?

Fair use or fair dealing are terms used to describe some limited activities that are allowed without infringing copyright. These exceptions normally cover private research, educational use, news reporting and review, and making readable copies for people with disabilities.

The details of the provisions will be subject to national law and whilst most will be similar, details will vary from country to country.

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