Saturday, December 12, 2015

Copyright: Rights, Rules, and Rants

Listening to people talk about copyright laws, that do not have an authentic knowledge of copyright, is obnoxious. Copyright gives you five primary rights (1) the right to reproduce, (2) the right to distribute, (3) the right to prepare derivative works, (4) the right to perform publicly, and (5) the right to display publicly. There's a sixth. However, it deals with sound recordings, and it is not pertinent to this rant. These five rights can be divided up into as many pieces and licensed (sold) to as many entities as the copyright owner desires. When a film studio buys an option to start a new Marvel comic franchise, they are initially buying a piece of that third right listed above.

In order to obtain copyright protection, one must simply produce a work of authorship in a tangible medium. The MOMENT it is created and fixed in a tangible medium, the work is protected by copyright. This means that an individual does not need to register a work of authorship to obtain copyright protection of their work. Unless it is a "work for hire," the work is protected by copyright for the life of the author plus 70 years (work for hire=95 years after publication, or 120 years after creation, whichever comes first).

Now, if you want to register a work of authorship, the only way to do so is through the U.S. Copyright Office. Mailing it to yourself (the so-called "Poor Man's Copyright,") uploading it to a website, "registering" the work with another entity, etc., etc. does not provide legal registration or additional protection whatsoever. These methods can be used to help prove that a work of authorship was in fact created and fixed in a tangible medium at a particular date, but otherwise they are useless. Once again, a work of authorship is protected by copyright the moment it is fixed into a tangible medium, so anyone that says, "By doing x (with our site/organization,) your work will be protected by copyright" is full of it. You know they are full of it, because your work was protected by copyright before their gibberish was solicited. In fact, for anyone to claim that you will receive copyright protection or registration BY uploading something to their site, could be sued for false representation.

I could go on and on. Nonetheless, those are the basics, and I'm sure Wikipedia, the U.S. Copyright Office's website, and a variety of additional sources will confirm my little breakdown. Have a delightful day.

 P.S. "Fair Use (Section 107)," does not mean that an individual has not infringed on copyright. No, Fair Use means that a person HAS infringed upon an owner's copyright. In other words, Fair Use is a defense for legal copyright infringement. However, one can never truly know if Fair Use applies until a court utilizes a four-prong test and decides whether Fair Use is applicable or not. If you ever see a YouTube video/anything that says, "This work is protected under Fair Use," it is generally an indication that the person making that statement does not know what they are talking about.

Reference: Bernstein, Gregory. Understanding the Business of Entertainment: The Legal and Business Essentials All Filmmakers Should Know. New York, Focal Press, 2015. Print.