Monday, October 27, 2008

Copyright and you: The basics Alan Mitchell

After the copyright talk I gave at the RRAA meeting in Sept. there were requests to have a brief summary put together at least of the high points. Well here it is finally. In putting this together I have added some thoughts on fair use and some excellent references on public domain that were not possible to go over at a talk. The best overall summary I have found is from site at Cornell University. The links are all shown below. At some point, and if enough people ask for it I will put the complete presentation on my web site. Hope you enjoy…

From the Copyright office web page:
"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 This protection is available to both published and unpublished works."

So what happens with Copyright?
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;
  • To prepare derivative works based upon the work;
  • To display the 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

Fair Use
Fair use: “Although fair use was not mentioned in the previous copyright law, the doctrine has developed through a substantial number of court decisions over the years” US Copyright office.
  • This means that fair use to some degree is open to court interpretation.
“Various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered “fair,” such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.” Reference US Copyright office.
  • No commercial use of a work would be considered
  • If you take part or whole of another work and incorporate that into your art and then sell your art that would be a violation of copyright.
  • “Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.” US Copyright office
One common question for visual artists is “How much do I have to change in order to claim copyright in someone else's work?” You cannot claim copyright to another's work no matter how much you change it.

Reference from the copyright office: “Publication is the distribution of copies or phonorecords of a work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending.” This is important because if you offer for sale a work in a gallery it is considered published. Publishing a work prior to registering the copyright limits the possible court awarded damages. Always register your copyright prior to publishing or at least with 90 of the first date to ensure you maintain your right to full compensation.

Many questions come up on public domain: The best reference is the folks from Cornell have done a great job compiling many links to and defining public domain.

There are an excellent set of frequently asked Questions on the Copyright office web site.

Lots of information is available at:

Great basic Introduction:

Alan Mitchell

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