Implications of Copyright Law

By David Carnes

A copyright grants its holder a legal monopoly on the use and commercial exploitation of an original work of authorship. Copyright law is authorized by Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution. Copyrighted material can include such diverse works as musical compositions and software algorithms. The protection of copyrights has a profound effect on the economy.

A copyright grants its holder a legal monopoly on the use and commercial exploitation of an original work of authorship. Copyright law is authorized by Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution. Copyrighted material can include such diverse works as musical compositions and software algorithms. The protection of copyrights has a profound effect on the economy.

Financial Incentive

Copyright's legal monopoly results in a financial incentive for an author to produce original works. He can earn income in two ways: by licensing the use of his work in exchange for royalties, or by selling his copyright to someone else. Novelists, for example, typically sell their copyrights to publishing companies. Because copyright law allows authors to profit from their work, some are able to devote themselves full-time to creative pursuits. This benefits society as a whole by increasing the number of available creative works.

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Fair Use

Copyright's legal monopoly generates a great number of creative works, but places restrictions on their use. The owner of a music CD, for example, is not permitted to burn copies and distribute them to friends, even free of charge. This prohibition more or less restricts the legal use of copyrighted material to those who can afford to pay royalties (typically included in the retail purchase price of a copyrighted work). To mitigate the harshness of this legal monopoly, copyright law allows anyone to use a small piece of a copyrighted work for a socially beneficial purpose such as education. This is known as the "fair use" exception to copyright law.

The Public Domain

Copyright law must balance two competing concerns: it must encourage authors by allowing them to profit from their work, and it must encourage the free flow of ideas. In addition to the fair use exception, copyright law encourages the free flow of ideas by placing expiration dates on copyrights. Although the system is complex, a work created today by an individual author (as opposed to a corporation) will expire 70 years after the author's death, no matter who owns the copyright at that time. After that, the work will enter the public domain. Copyright expiration is why many classic works, such as Victorian era novels, may be freely used by anyone without concern as to whether or not the use is "fair."

Advances in Technology

Advances in technology have challenged the enforcement of copyright laws. Peer-to-peer file sharing, for example, is so widespread that it is virtually impossible to effectively police. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 addresses some of these problems. It criminalizes the development and distribution of technology designed to circumvent technological copyright protection measures, such as copy protection for CDs. It also provides a means for interactive websites such as YouTube to avoid liability for infringing material uploaded by users.

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Pros & Cons of Copyright Laws

References

Related articles

Rules Governing Copyright Protection

The U.S. Constitution authorizes the federal government to grant copyright protection to original works of authorship. Copyright protection grants you a legal monopoly over certain uses of your work for the duration of the copyright. You don't have to be a U.S. citizen or resident to take advantage of federal copyright protection.

How Long Is a Book Copyright in Force?

Any tangible, creative item may be copyrighted, and this includes most books. Others may not use the book except for uses that fall under the "fair use" exception: quoting a limited number of lines for educational, review or scholarly purposes. The laws governing how long a copyright lasts depend on when the book was published. Books published since 1978 do not require a copyright symbol or registration with the U.S. Copyright Office to receive copyright protection.

Copyright Issues With Playing Published Music in Public

The U.S. Copyright Act of 1976 creates a monopoly for authors of original musical works. This means that only the copyright holder is allowed to profit from her creation. Included in this monopoly is the right to perform the work in public. As long as you hold the copyright, you can sing your songs as often as you like, in front of as many people as you want. On the other hand, if someone else performs your work in public without permission or paying a royalty, he may have infringed your copyright.

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