If you enjoy the creative process but don't want to get involved in legalities, you may wonder: why should you care about copyright?
Life of a Writer
Making a living as a writer takes hard work, discipline, creativity and skill. Words are the craft, they are your product. Copyright protects those words from being used in any form without the author's approval. They're your words, your product, and copyright laws protect your words from being plagiarized in part or as a whole.
So Why Should You Care About Copyright
As a writer, artist or photographer, the reasons to care about copyrights deal with protecting your work and the work of your fellow artists from infringement. You know how exciting the creative process is, and the sense of satisfaction gained through the process. Your writing is part of you; a window to your soul. When someone copies your work and claims it as their own, it's illegal, but it cuts deeper than that because the "theft" is on a very personal level. That's where copyrights come it. They are designed to protect by giving you the say in how your work can be used by others.
For example, if you write a poem and share it on your website and later find it published in a book of poems without your permission, that is copyright infringement. You as the copyright holder have the legal authority to say who can and cannot publish your poem. When you shared your poem on your website, it was in a fixed tangible medium. This established your copyright, and the publisher of the book has infringed on those rights. However, even though you have grounds to take the publisher to court, if it isn't registered you can't fight it in a court of law. So if you wonder why should you care about copyright registration - this is the reason.
What Works Are Covered Under Copyright
Copyright covers more than literary works (fiction and non-fiction) and poetry. It also covers music, movies, animation and artwork. In a nutshell, it protects any "original work" set in a tangible medium. This take in works produced for the corporate world and for the Internet, too, and includes but is not limited to:
- Digital media (includes web pages, email, music, graphics and more)
- PowerPoint presentations
- Computer software
Basically, if someone created it and you can read it, see it or hear it, it is probably copyrighted.
What Cannot Be Copyrighted
While tangible original works can be copyrighted, the following categories are not covered by copyright protection:
- Works of expression if not in a tangible form
- Improvised speeches that are not recorded
- Improvised performances that are not recorded
- Short phrases
- Familiar symbols
- Factual information
- Works in the public domain
- Works of unknown authorship consisting of common property (information)
Public Domain Works
When a copyright runs out, works are no longer protected and become part of the public domain. These works can be copied without permission. This leads to the question, when does a copyright end? The answer depends on when it was written, and whether or not the person owning the rights is still alive. Check the following resources for more information:
- Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States
- When Works Pass Into the Public Domain
- New Rules For Using Public Domain Materials
When Your Work Can Be Used Without Permission
There is a provision in copyright law know as "fair use". This provision allows others to reproduce parts of your copyrighted works without your permission. Fair use is limited to using copyrighted material for the following purposes:
- News reporting
When copying copyrighted material it must be referenced, and if it doesn't fall under "fair use" the person using the material must request permission from the person who owns the rights.
Whether you're the author who owns the copyright or a person using someone else's work you should care about copyright and follow the law.