What is Copyright?

“Congress shall have the power… to promote the progress of science and the useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”
- US Constitution, Article I, Section 8 "

Copyright is a legal device that provides the creator of a work of art or literature, or a work that conveys information or ideas, the right to control how the work is used." - Stephen Fishman, Esq. The Copyright Handbook, 1996.

“Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (title 17, U.S. Code) to the authors of “original works of authorship,” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works. This protection is available to both published and unpublished works.

Section 106 of the 1976 Copyright Act generally gives the owner of copyright the exclusive right to do and to authorize others to do the following:

  • To reproduce the work in copies or phonorecords;

  • To prepare derivative works based upon the work;

  • To distribute copies or phonorecords of the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending;

  • To perform the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works;

  • To display the copyrighted work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work; and

  • In the case of sound recordings, to perform the work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.

See the United States Copyright Office web site for more information on Copyright Law.

The purpose of copyright law is to provide economic incentive for authors to create new works. Exercising any of the copyright owners exclusive rights without permission may be copyright infringement. Rather than focus on the restrictions of copyright law, we need to learn how to use copyrighted works safely. This is where Fair Use comes in to play.