In this Information Age, copyright protection concerns not only artists and authors, but also producers of computer programming and all those who created and disseminate information on the Web. A copyright includes the exclusive right to sell, reproduce, perform, display, modify or license original creative works. Protectable creative works may range from traditional works of art, such as painting, sculpture, jewelry, literature, drama, music, design, sound recordings and film to high-tech creations such as computer software and databases. What is protected is the creator's concrete form of expression, not the underlying idea expressed.
Copyright automatically takes effect when a work is presented, published or recorded for the first time in a fixed medium of expression, such as a book or CD. Normally, the creator owns the copyright. A major exception to this rule is "work for hire," where the work is produced either on contract or as part of an employee's ordinary job description. If the owner of the work is to be someone other than the creator, it is important that the prospective owner have an appropriate written agreement with the creator. Copyrights last for a relatively lengthy but limited time, and may eventually revert to public domain, at which time anyone may freely copy the protected work.
Our firm counsels clients on a wide range of copyright issues, from fair use of another's copyrighted material to negotiating the transfer and licensing of copyright interests. We help sort out the rights of free-lancers and consultants, and put appropriate agreements in place to ensure that our clients have the rights they deserve. These include nondisclosure and noncompete agreements, work-for-hire contracts and copyright assignments. In the case of clear copyright infringement and other abuses, we stand ready to pursue forceful litigation in the protection of our clients' creative rights.
In most cases, a copyright is owned by the author of a creative work. An exception is "work for hire," which allows company ownership of a copyrighted work when it is produced by an employee acting within the scope of his or her employment. Certain categories of work performed by contractors, e.g., free-lance advertising copywriting, is considered "work for hire." Contract software development does not usually come under this rule, unless there is a pre-existing written agreement assigning ownership to the company.
A work in the public domain can be copied freely. These include works by the U.S. government and works for which the copyright has expired. In general, copyrights on works created after 1978 last for 50 years beyond the life of the author. Copyrights on works created and first published between 1950 and 1978 last 75 years. Copyrights on works created and first published before 1950 originally lasted 28 years, but may have been renewed for another 28 years.
Fair use provisions of the copyright law allow limited copying or distribution of published works without the author's permission. Examples would be the quotation of a brief passage from a book in a review or copying a small part for a school project.
There are no explicit specifications of how much and when one can copy a copyrighted work, but each case is generally evaluated according to four factors:
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