The Confusing World Of Copyright (Part 2)

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The following is not to be construed as legal advice and is an OpEd piece that delves into the difficult and confusing world of copyrights.  For expert advice, consult a lawyer, barrister, or solicitor who is qualified to answer your questions on all aspects of copyright law.

There are four important copyrights that most people don’t seem to know, and this is what most often gets people in hot water when it comes to copyright infringement.  So often, on social media, videos are uploaded with disclaimers such as the ones in the image above.

Just claiming that a video is educational doesn’t automatically grant the person uploading the video immunity under the claim of the Fair Use Clause in the Copyright Act.  Stating up front that the person uploading the video doesn’t own any copyrights to the music doesn’t exonerate the person from infringing copyright.  Whether the video generates revenues for the person uploading the video or only receives a handful of views also doesn’t decide whether someone has infringed on a copyright owner’s rights.

What are the other copyrights that copyright owners actually have?  Copyright owners have reproduction rights, distribution rights, derivative works rights, and performance and display rights.

Reproduction Rights

This is the right that copyright owners and those to whom they assign rights (i.e. publishers) own that allows them to make copies of a protected work.

Photocopying that music book is infringing on reproduction rights (and other rights as well).  Making a DVD copy of that great television series and giving that DVD copy to a friend or family member while retaining the original copy is infringing on reproduction rights (and other rights as well).

Adding music or video or images to which you don’t own rights to your own music or video or images is infringing on reproduction rights (and other rights as well).  And it doesn’t matter if you post a disclaimer with the work or you claim there’s no copyright or that no copyright infringement is intended.  If you know enough to add any of that information, you already know you’ve infringed copyright.

Distribution Rights

This is the right that copyright owners and those to whom they assign rights (i.e. publishers) own that allows them to sell or otherwise distribute copies to the public.

Saving a copy of that book file in PDF format and emailing it to your friend who can’t afford (according to your friend) to spend money on buying a legitimate copy of the book file is infringing on distribution rights (and other rights as well).  Downloading songs from friends or P2P networks for “personal enjoyment” is infringing on distribution rights (and other rights as well).

Adding music or video or images to which you don’t own rights to your own music or video or images is infringing on distribution rights (and other rights as well).  And it doesn’t matter if you post a disclaimer with the work or you claim there’s no copyright or that no copyright infringement is intended.  If you know enough to add any of that information, you already know you’ve infringed copyright.

Derivative Rights

This is the right that copyright owners and those to whom they assign rights (i.e. publishers) own that allows copyright owners to grant others the right to create new works based on protected work.  This would include things such as choral arrangements and fan fiction.

If the work upon which a derivative work is based is in the public domain, derivative rights aren’t a problem.  However, if the work upon which the derivative work is based is protected, permission from the copyright owner(s) must be sought and granted.

Performance or Display Rights

This is the right that copyright owners own that allows them to decide how they wish to sell or license their rights as identified in the Copyright Act.  It provides copyright owners with the right to be as flexible — or inflexible — as they wish when it comes to performances or display of their copyright materials.

For example, a politician may want to use a specific pop song as part of his or her political campaign.  The copyright owner(s) of the pop song in question have the right to allow or deny the politician permission to use the song.  If the politician uses the song without the copyright owner(s) permission, he or she will not be allowed to use the well-worn “no copyright infringement intended” or “no copyright” or “I don’t own the copyrights to this song” justification in a court of law.

Final Note

If you don’t know if you can legally use certain materials, find out.  Do the leg work and find out who owns the copyright so you can ask permission to use the material, or secure proof that the material is in the public domain.  Doing the research can literally spell the difference between doing the right thing and finding yourself on the receiving end of a very expensive lawsuit alleging copyright infringement on your part.

Elyse Bruce

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One Response to “The Confusing World Of Copyright (Part 2)”


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