Understanding Copyright – The 3 Must Know Tips

The more I speak with people, the more I realize copyright is a topic that is still commonly misunderstood.

This article is intended to clarify some of the major questions about copyright so people can feel comfortable promoting their work to outside parties.

Tip 1: What is Copyright?

It only seems logical to begin this article by describing what copyright really is. In essence, copyright protects original works from being used without permission from the author or owner of the work. The reason for the protection is to encourage creators to continue with their artistic innovations, which positively impacts the economy.

Copyright is a set of exclusive rights granted to the author or owner of the work for a specific period of time. The rights granted by copyright include:

* producing or reproducing the work or any substantial part thereof

* permitting the reproduction of the work or any substantial part thereof

* performing the work or any substantial part thereof

* publishing the work or any substantial part thereof

* translating the work into other languages, or creating an adaption, such as a novel into a screenplay

The significance of these rights is that the owner of the copyright can control who uses their work. As a result, the creative integrity of the work can be maintained as the owner has control over its use.

Tip 2: How do I Attain Copyright Protection?

The beauty about copyright is that it is automatic the moment you put your original work into a fixed (tangible) form. When we refer to a tangible form it means the work has to be on something physical. In other words, if you simply recite your poem to someone, you do not own the copyright. However, if you write the poem on a napkin, or record yourself reciting the poem, you will own the copyright, and the rights that go along with it.

Although copyright is automatic the moment you put your work in a fixed form, it could still be very difficult to prove you are the original creator of the work. As such, it can be a good idea to create legal proof of your ownership through a copyright registry. Many countries run their own registries. There are also registries through various artistic guilds, or even online registries.

Tip 3: What Works are Protected by Copyright?

Different countries may classify their works slightly differently. As a general guide, copyright extends to original creative works. Below are some examples and the classifications of works that can be protected by copyright:

o Literary Works (lyrics, novels, computer software source code, plays, etc.)

o Artistic Works/Visual Works (architectural work, sculptures, drawings, paintings, maps, photographs, etc.)

o Musical Works (musical composition with or without words)

o Dramatic Works (films, videos, choreography)

o Sound Recordings (recordings of music, dramas, lectures, etc. It does not include soundtracks to audio visual works).

o Serials & Periodicals (newspapers, magazines, bulletins, newsletters, journals, periodicals, etc.)

Now that you know what is protected by copyright, let’s take a quick look at what is not protected by copyright.

Copyright protects the expression of a work. The idea of the work itself cannot be protected under copyright law. In other words, one thousand people can write about the concept of copyright, and each of them would hold the copyright to their specific expression about the topic. In addition to ideas, other works not protected by copyright include: concepts, names, titles, slogans, factual information, themes, catch-phrases, methods, governmental documents, etc.


The above information is meant as a general guide to further your copyright knowledge and does not constitute legal advice. For questions about your specific work, you should consult a copyright lawyer in your country.