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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 This protection is available for both published and unpublished works.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. In addition, certain authors of works of visual art have the rights of attribution and integrity as described in section 106A of the 1976 Copyright Act. For further information, request Circular 40, Copyright Registration for Works of the Visual Arts.
It is illegal for anyone to violate any of the rights provided by the copyright law to the owner of copyright. These rights, however, are not unlimited in scope. Sections 107 through 121 of the 1976 Copyright Act establish limitations on these rights. In some cases, these limitations are specified exemptions from copyright liability. One major limitation is the doctrine of "fair use," which is given a statutory basis in section 107 of the 1976 Copyright Act. In other instances, the limitation takes the form of a "compulsory license" under which certain limited uses of copyrighted works are permitted upon payment of specified royalties and compliance with statutory conditions. For further information about the limitations of any of these rights, consult the copyright law or write to the Copyright Office.
Who can claim copyright?
Copyright protection subsists from the time the work is created in fixed form. The copyright in the work of authorship immediately becomes the property of the author who created the work. Only the author or those deriving their rights through the author can rightfully claim copyright.
In the case of works made for hire, the employer and not the employee is considered to be the author. Section 101 of the copyright law defines a "work made for hire" as:
a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment; or
a work specially ordered or commissioned for use as:
a contribution to a collective work
a part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work
a supplementary work
an instructional text
answer material for a test
a sound recording
if the parties expressly agree in a written instrument signed by them that the work shall be considered a work made for hire....
The authors of a joint work are co-owners of the copyright in the work, unless there is an agreement to the contrary.
Copyright in each separate contribution to a periodical or other collective work is distinct from copyright in the collective work as a whole and vests initially with the author of the contribution.
Two General Principles
Mere ownership of a book, manuscript, painting, or any other copy or phonorecord does not give the possessor the copyright. The law provides that transfer of ownership of any material object that embodies a protected work does not of itself convey any rights in the copyright.
Minors may claim copyright, but state laws may regulate the business dealings involving copyrights owned by minors. For information on relevant state laws, consult an attorney.