Paralegal Guide: Copyright Explored
A unique work by any author in literature, drama, music, art or an intellectual arena is protected by federal law in the United States, whether the work is published or unpublished. Rights granted to copyright owners include reproducing work—or granting others permission to do so—such as in making copies, or performing or displaying a project publicly. Violating the rights of a copyright owner is illegal and subject to trial. Infringement of copyright is referred to sometimes as either theft (a case where someone uses the work of another without permission) or piracy (taking another’s work for financial gain). Enforcement of copyright is left up to the holder; this, naturally, has ushered in requests by some to have more government involvement. Copyright law has changed over the last few decades to adapt to the shifting spheres of the art, music and literature industries. A major exception made to the law involves fair use, or any copying of material for the purpose of commentary or criticism, usually in the field of education, done without permission when it is determined that such reproduction meets specific criteria.
The Copyright Act and Subsequent Amendments
Prior to 1976, no revisions had been made to the United States’ first copyright law, the Copyright Act of 1909. Once the United States signed onto the Universal Copyright Convention (UCC) in 1955, Congressional deliberations occurred for the next two decades to react to the major technological advances made since the early part of the century in radio, television, movies and music recordings. This resulted in the Copyright Act of 1976, signed into law by President Gerald Ford. Now, the copyright law of the United States exists as U.S. Code Title 17.
Five major amendments have been made to the fundamental Copyright Law since 1976:
- The Berne Convention Implementation Act of 1988
- The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998, implementing two 1996 World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) treaties
- The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998
- The TEACH (Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization) Act of 2002
- The Copyright Cleanup, Clarifications, and Correction Act of 2010
The copyright law and U.S. Code Title 17
- The not-for-profit Legal Information Institute (LII), part of the Cornell University Law School, provides a website with United States Code laws broken down into readable segments. This link will take you to Title 17 – Copyrights.
- The fundamentals of copyright are detailed in this PDF circular, located on the United States Copyright Office website.
- Under the Law and Policy section of this United States Copyright Office website, all chapters and appendices of the copyright law can be found in both text and PDF form.
- Wikipedia outlines here the provisions of the original Copyright Act of 1976, a law which is still the primary basis for copyright in the United States.
- THOMAS, part of the Library of Congress, provides an informational site for legislation: bills and resolutions, activities in Congress, and resources for teachers.
Amendments to the Copyright Act of 1976
- Find here the non-profit website OpenCongress, showing that the Copyright Cleanup, Clarification, and Corrections Act of 2010 was signed into law by the President on December 9, 2010.
- A blog entitled “Andy on the Road” discusses which sections of Title 17-Copyrights will be affected by the new 2010 law.
- Here is the TEACH Act in its entirety, signed by President Bush on November 2, 2002.
- Wikipedia outlines the background and implications of the TEACH Act.
- Published in 1999 in the journal Cause/Effect, this article provides background to the need for the 2002 TEACH Act by arguing the case for amending the Copyright Act of 1998 to grant Fair Use in the application of digital (online) education.
- The U.S. Copyright Office provides a summary here of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998.
- The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 is explained by the KEYTLAW website.
Obtaining Permission and License for Use
It is imperative that permission be obtained from a specific author in order to use or copy any portion of that author’s work. Part of securing permission may involve getting a license to use someone’s project, and sometimes a royalty fee may be required. Below are links to agencies and organizations that have suggestions or further resources for locating copyrighted authors. When obtaining permission is not practicable, avoiding the use of copyrighted material altogether is generally recommended.
- This FAQ sheet on the United States Copyright Office website simplifies basic information on whether permission is needed in certain instances.
- The United States Copyright Office provides online resource links to government agencies and copyright licensing organizations.
- Circulars and factsheets supplied by the Copyright Office (mostly in PDF form) offer information on aspects of the copyright process, including registration, fees and compulsory licenses.
- The Copyright Clearance Center (CCC)’s Campus Guide to Copyright Compliance is geared for obtaining permission in higher education.
- The Copyright Clearance Center offers a guide for obtaining copyright compliance, geared for business settings.
- On CopyLaw.com, Attorney Lloyd J. Jassin refutes ten common myths in obtaining copyright permission.
Many college and university libraries now provide useful websites that outline both the reason for citing sources in written works and basic guidelines for documenting. A handful of such sites can be found below, along with links to online handbooks and references. Students in higher education these days are often required to purchase—and use—style manuals to assist them in learning to cite their sources accurately and consistently. Some of the most common styles adhered to in a variety of print and publishing arenas include:
- APA (American Psychological Association) - Social Sciences
- MLA (Modern Language Association) - Humanities
- CSE (Counsel of Science Editors) - Sciences
- Chicago - History
- The question, “Why cite sources?” is asked and answered on the Sacremento State University Library website.
- Diana Hacker and Barbara Fister present an online handbook that includes documenting guidelines in four main styles: MLA, APA, Chicago, and CSE.
- The Center for Writing Studies, part of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, includes a citation styles tab in its online “Writers Workshop”.
- Documentation formatting for APA, MLA and Chicago style are all covered on OWL, Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab.
- Some of the most common writing styles are listed on California State University’s library page, with links to citation and bibliography guidelines beneath each one.
Citing electronic sources
- The Internet Public Library (ipl2) offers a page full of links to sources for citing electronic information.
- Glencoe/McGraw-Hill’s PDF “Citing Electronic Sources” gives MLA guidelines and useful examples of citations.
Especially for younger students and their teachers
- This site gives educators suggestions for teaching children how to cite primary sources.
- A student scrolling through this Online Library Learning Center page will find simplified information on common styles (and their manuals), and definitions of bibliographies, footnotes and parentheticals.
Fair Use and Implications
The United States copyright law includes a limitation and exception clause to the author of an original work by allowing some use of the author’s copyrighted material without permission. Projects or work covered by this doctrine include teaching, research, commentary, criticism, news reporting and scholarship. Section 107 of the law lists four factors that must be considered in determining whether fair use applies to a situation:
- The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
- The nature of the copyrighted work
- The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
- The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work
Educators should be aware of the provisions of fair use in order to ensure their reproductions of taught works are within the provisions of the law. Making a “good faith” effort to stay within fair use guidelines can be considered a defense—not a guarantee—against being sued by an author of a work.
Fair use explained
- The United States Copyright Office notes how section 107 of U.S. Code Title 17 lists the four major points to be considered in figuring out whether or not a use is fair.
- A Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education is provided here by American University’s Center for Social Media, and helps educators to interpret the fair use copyright law.
- The Poetry Foundation announces the January 2011 release of the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Poetry.
- SULAIR, Stanford University Libraries, explains how portions of copyrighted materials are free as long as they are quoted uses for commentary or criticism.
- WideOpenDoors.net, developed by the Groton Public Schools, describes how copyright laws are more lenient when materials are used for educational purposes, compared to uses in commercial areas.
- The Copyright Site simplifies the implications of Fair Use for teaching and research purposes.
- Wikipedia’s take on the background and provisions of fair use.
- Three organizations are currently working together to prepare a code of best practices for fair use, due for completion in 2013: The Association of Research Libraries, American University’s Center for Social Media, and the Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property (A.U.’s College of Law).
Discussion on fair use
- Background information is given here on CONFU (Conference on Fair Use of Copyrighted Works), a vast initiative that lasted for 32 months and ended in 1997 without consensus.
Applying for Copyright Registration
Before 1988, copyright protection involved specific formal requirements: copyright registration and copyright notice. With the Berne Convention Implementation Act, which amended the 1976 Copyright Act, these standards were no longer required in order for a work to receive copyright protection. Now, copyright registration is optional, but artists and authors are encouraged to apply for it, to take advantage of important benefits. Most importantly, perhaps, a public record is created for a work, and indexed in the United States Copyright Office records.
Listed below are several resources for applying for registration—many of them online.
- File an online copyright registration via The United States Copyright Office’s eCO Online System.
- The United States Copyright Office provides a FAQ sheet online, to answer general copyright questions and to explain what a copyright would protect.
- The Copyright Office presents supplementary registration information in this PDF circular.
- Apply online to license your work at the Copyright Clearance Center (CCC) website.
- The Copyright Registration Service is an organization which registers original works by anyone who lives in a country which has signed the Berne Convention.
- A page on Widipedia explores the history of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, accepted first in 1886 and now recognized by a multitude of nations, including the United States.
- About.com outlines the basic procedures for registering for copyright.
- Attorney Larry J. Guffy of Baltimore, MD presents an overview of the copyright registration process.
- Wikipedia weighs in with a definition of copyright registration.
Additional Copyright Resources of Interest
- The Music Educators National Conference (MENC) supports a Copyright Awareness Scholarship Program.
- On this website, learn about a campaign for copyright awareness and photographers’ rights, from October 2009.
- Christine L. Sundt explores the challenges for potential users in clearing rights for orphan works—those that have inadequate or inaccurate information regarding authorship.
Copyright: education & children
- Copyrightkids.org is a colorful website for children who wish to learn more about copyright.
- Teaching Treasures provides a true-false quiz for students to help them understand copyright.
- An article by Kirk Biglione discusses the degree to which kids need to learn about copyright.
Copyright in the arts
- Guidelines for using copy-protected music are here on the Reach.net webpage.
Image: Wikimedia Commons