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The Way Copyright Protects Creative Works in Broad Strokes

Intellectual property refers to a creation of the mind which can be protected by law. Copyright is one area of IP law, and has been legislated differently around the world. Though it is a multifaceted subject, a grasp of its core principles better enable people to safeguard and earn from creative works.

The Importance of Copyright

Wherever we encounter authorial works, there are legal protections to prevent any unauthorised use. These protections are made explicit by way of copyright law, which regulates permissible rights. For example, copyright holders can decide who can produce, reproduce, publish, create derivative works, distribute copies, display, perform, transfer ownership, and license the ‘original authorial works’ to designated parties. Licensing fees are economic rights from which financial reward can be derived. To use copyrighted works without approval is infringement, and subject to legal penalties.

How Copyright Comes Into Effect

For the relevant laws to come into effect, works must be in a ‘fixed’ manner, for which reason an idea alone can not be protected. Once an OAW has been created it immediately comes under the protection of copyright law. Additionally, moral rights ensure the author’s right to attribution. To verify the right to these legal protections, there is the option for works to be registered. Should future disputes occur, registration aims to demonstrate which party has the prior claim, a significant point were litigation to arise.

When Works Enter Into The Public Domain

Copyright is typically valid for the duration of the author’s lifetime, plus several more years. This duration can be further extended, thereby prolonging the exclusive rights of the holder. Once expired, OAWs enter into the public domain, where they can be used freely by anyone.

Work for Hire or Commission

The expression for an idea may come about when commercially tasked. If commissioned, the creator retains copyright until it is explicitly transferred. This is not so with a ‘work for hire’ contract, in which case it falls to the employer who uses the skills of others. Sadly, a commission contract can harbour rights grabs, a reality which can affect practitioners in any creative field.

Copyright Exceptions

There are instances in which use of copyright material does not require permissions, and thus need not seek approval from copyright holders. Fair Dealing (Fair Use in the U.S.) covers these contexts, which include education, scholarship, review, and reporting to name a few. Search engines are mostly exempt from liability for the time being.

The Grey Area of Remix Culture

Unlike originative works, much creative production relies on assembling pre-existing parts. The status of these remixes continues to be a point of legal debate. While derivative works clearly infringe upon standard copyright, many agree that due consideration ought to be given to avoid prohibiting amateur, non-commercial creative works.

Works Made Available to Reusers

There are cases when it is not desirable that the spread of creative works be inhibited by the need to seek permissions. In those instances there are tools provided which encourage the reuse of creative works. Under the Creative Commons licenses, the usage rights make works available to the public for limited use, which may also include adaptations. This is certainly a timely development, given the societal shift toward online participatory culture.

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