Copyright Law: Making Personal Copies

By Louis Kroeck

Copyright law does not contain any caveat that allows unauthorized parties to make personal copies of copyrighted products. However, under the doctrine of "fair use," individuals may be permitted to make backup copies or archival copies of some materials as long as certain conditions are met. Creating a copy of a copyrighted work for your own ease of use is likely to be considered copyright infringement. But if you are making a copy so that you may use a copyrighted product in case the original is stolen, damaged or destroyed, your conduct may fall within the doctrine of fair use.

Copyright law does not contain any caveat that allows unauthorized parties to make personal copies of copyrighted products. However, under the doctrine of "fair use," individuals may be permitted to make backup copies or archival copies of some materials as long as certain conditions are met. Creating a copy of a copyrighted work for your own ease of use is likely to be considered copyright infringement. But if you are making a copy so that you may use a copyrighted product in case the original is stolen, damaged or destroyed, your conduct may fall within the doctrine of fair use.

Copyright Infringement

Generally, copyright infringement occurs when an unauthorized party reproduces, distributes, performs, publicly displays, or makes a derivative work from a copyrighted work without the permission of the copyright owner. Although the practice commonly occurs, making a copy of a protected work for a friend or for personal ease of access is prohibited and may subject the person making copies to personal liability. Additionally, making a personal copy of copyrighted material so that you can use it in a different manner may be prohibited under copyright law.

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Fair Use

Within copyright law there is a doctrine of law known as fair use. Although fair use does not actually give permission to make copies of a work or otherwise use a work without consent, the doctrine provides a defense to copyright infringement. The factors considered when applying the doctrine of fair use include: the purpose and character of the use, the nature of the copyrighted work, the amount of the work used, and the effect the use has upon the market for the copyrighted work.

Fair Use for Educators

Educators and librarians have more leeway when making copies of copyrighted material, as educational use is generally considered fair use in most circumstances. Educators generally are not allowed to copy for the purpose of avoiding purchasing books from publishers or to copy the same items from term to term. However, educators are generally permitted to make copies of short articles or pages from a book for the purpose of teaching a class. Additionally, librarians are permitted to make archival copies of certain works in case the original work is damaged, degraded, lost or stolen.

Software

Copyright law permits you to make one copy of your computer software for the purpose of archiving the software in case it is damaged or lost. In order to make a copy, you must own a valid copy of the software and must destroy or transfer your backup copy if you ever decide to sell, transfer or give away your original valid copy. It is not legal to sell a backup copy of software unless you are selling it along with the original.

CDs and DVDs

In addition to making a backup copy of software, it is legal to make a backup copy of a CD or DVD so that you can continue to enjoy the copyrighted material if your original copy fails. It is illegal to make copies of CDs or DVDs if you intend to distribute them to third parties, even by giving them away. Additionally, in some instances it may be unlawful to circumvent anti-piracy technology in order to make a backup copy of a CD or DVD.

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The Most Important Limitations of Fair Use Copyright Laws

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Copyright Laws for Textbooks

U.S. copyright law gives an author the exclusive right to duplicate and distribute her original work for a certain number of years. These exclusive rights are limited by the public interest in ensuring materials can be freely reproduced in an educational context. During debate about revisions to the copyright law, a House of Representatives ad hoc committee reached an agreement with the Authors League of America and the Association of American Publishers regarding the use of copyrighted works in nonprofit educational institutions. Portions of this agreement were later codified in the 1976 Copyright Act.

Can We Post Without Copyright Infringement If a Speaker Gave Us Their Work?

A speech is copyrighted the moment it is written down or recorded with a video camera or audio recording device. Although a speaker may have provided you with a copy of her work, you should still ask for permission before posting or otherwise publishing the work in any venue as it could lead to charges of copyright infringement.

About Copyright Laws for Movies

A copyright provides a legal monopoly on an original work of authorship, allowing the copyright holder to sue anyone who uses his work without authorization. Copyright protection applies to any work of art, including movies. Copyright law is governed primarily by the U.S. Copyright Law; with a few exceptions, the law prohibits state governments from legislating in this area. International copyright protection is available under several international treaties.

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