How Can Copyrights Affect You?

By Cindy Hill

Copyright protects the economic interests of writers, artists, musicians and other creative professionals in the fruits of their intellectual labor. Copyrights affect both business and personal use of a wide variety of common items; infringing on someone's copyright can create legal and economic problems at home and at work.

Personal Property

Copyright protects intangible intellectual property; it is separate from the physical work with which it is associated. A person may own the physical painting hanging on her living room wall, but the artist still owns the copyright in the image of that painting. The person owns the physical painting subject to the artist's copyrights, and cannot make posters or note cards from the image of the painting without the artist's permission. In addition to art, you cannot legally duplicate many other common household items, including computer software, movies, and music recordings, without the copyright holder's permission. Posting copyrighted works on file-sharing programs is not only a copyright infringement, it is a crime under the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act of 2005.

Business Impacts

Copyright affects business decisions in a myriad of ways on a daily basis. Images and text for business websites, advertisements and newsletters are all subject to copyright law. Selecting copyrighted materials for business publications without permission, such as lifting photographs from the Internet somewhere other than a photo bank, which states that the images are in the public domain, can subject the business to a costly copyright infringement lawsuit. Employment contracts are affected by copyright law when businesses include provisions specifying who owns the copyrights to creative intellectual property produced at the workplace.

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Creative Assets

Creative intellectual property has economic value. Copyright protection attaches to every original creative work as soon as it moves from a mere idea to being in a tangible state -- including preliminary sketches on a cocktail napkin. Every drawing, poem or speech that a person writes is a copyright-protected asset. Creative ideas can become extremely valuable over time. The economic value of copyright-protected assets can affect the terms of a business dissolution, bankruptcy, divorce or the administration of the creator's estate. Valuation of intangible intellectual property is difficult and can create conflict over the valuation of a business.


High school garage rock bands and community summer theater groups are both affected by copyright laws, as are professional lounge musicians, film makers, and the owners of venues where copyright-protected works are performed. Theater groups must secure a license from the copyright holder to perform a script, and bands must obtain a license from the copyright holder to record and distribute songs. Audience members may infringe on copyright at a performance by creating a video recording of a copyrighted performance and then publishing that recording by posting it on a website. Performers can help avoid copyright violations by obtaining the appropriate permission from copyright holders before a performance, and then communicating clearly to their audience regarding whether they can legally record the performance.

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Music Copyright Laws and Playing a Song at a Meeting


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As established under Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, copyright promotes creativity by giving creators exclusive rights to profit from their work and protecting it against infringement. As the Copyright Office explains, this protection extends to original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, such as a book, movie, painting, and even a design printed on a T-shirt. However, not every logo on a tee is eligible for copyright protection.

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