Forms of Copyright Infringement

By Tom Streissguth

The federal copyright laws protect the creators of original literary and other artistic works. If you register a copyright, then you have the right to protect your work by a claim of infringement. Copyright laws have been on the books for more than a century, but in recent years, the development of new media, and innovative forms of storage and reproduction of visual and written works, have given rise to new forms of copyright infringement.

Text and Images

The classic form of copyright infringement is the direct unauthorized copying of protected text or graphic images in a work that is distributed to the public. Copyright law allows a limited amount of direct copying if the user is quoting material, as in a history book that quotes a source, or in a published book review to illustrate an author's content or style. The source must have attribution, either in the accompanying text or by a reference note. This "fair use" is not very well defined in the law, and each publisher sets its own standards for authors in the interest of avoiding a copyright infringement action by the original author.

Web Use

The Internet offers nearly limitless opportunities for easy copyright infringement. In addition to directly copying text or images to another web page, anyone who downloads an image for his own use, or uses a "pointer" to bring an image up to his web page, is violating copyright. To avoid copyright infringement, the second user must get permission from the original creator to use the text, image, or link. The use of copyrighted material in an e-book without permission is also a violation.

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Digital Reproduction and Display

Unauthorized downloading of copyrighted material is another common form of copyright infringement. While music and video files are sold over the Internet for personal use, copying, selling, or distributing the file without permission represents copyright infringement. This is true whether or not you charge for the work. Any display of an image or text from a copyrighted work for promotional purposes also is a violation of copyright, as is use of that material in an advertisement, T-shirt, or banner.


Using a photocopier to reproduce a book or magazine article, or any other copyrighted printed material, is a violation of copyright, unless the photocopying is done for strictly personal use. Copyright law allows for limited photocopying for educational use, such as the distribution of a poem or the chapter of a book to students in a literature class. Even for educational use, the law also sets out standards of brevity; for example, copied prose material should be no more than 10 percent of the published work or 1,000 words, whichever is less, and must carry a copyright notice.

Copyright Law

Copyright law bans the creation of derivative works that copy the original speech, characters, settings, or plots of another work, if that work is under copyright. Generally, works published in the United States prior to 1923 are not copyrighted. Works created before January 1, 1978 required registration with the U.S. Copyright Office for protection under copyright laws for a 28-year term. Renewal for an additional term of 47 years was then possible. Work created on or after January 1, 1978, subsists from its creation and copyright typically endures for a term consisting of the life of the author and 70 years after the author's death. Copyright protection exists even if the work has not been registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, as long as it was created while the copyright laws were in effect.

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Copyright & Fair Use Guidelines for School Projects


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Copyright Laws on Exercise Routines

Title 17 of the U.S. Code extends copyright protection to original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works. Exercise routines that fall within any of these categories may be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. Copyright does not extend to ideas or concepts that have not been fixed in a tangible form. To benefit from copyright protection, the creator of an original routine must therefore either write it down or record it in a video or multimedia format.

Copyright Law on Streaming PPV Events

Copyright law in the United States continues to evolve as technology changes and new ways to copy and distribute creative works are developed. Streaming of live and recorded events is the latest technology to test the efficacy of the copyright laws. In the same way that the music and movie industries have been battling downloading and file-sharing services for the past decade, sports leagues and pay-per-view (PPV) producers are trying to assert their intellectual property rights against websites that siphon off profits through unauthorized streaming of live and recorded performances over the Internet. Legislators have begun to tackle the problem of willful unauthorized streaming that significantly damages an industry, and new copyright laws have been proposed to clarify civil penalties and establish criminal penalties.

Movie Copyright Laws

Copyright laws prohibit individuals and organizations from copying or reproducing original works without permission from their creators. Movie copyright laws generally apply to theft of content and unlicensed public performances. Title 17 of the United States Code contains the Federal Copyright Act and Section 106 states that the owner of the copyright in any movie or motion picture has the exclusive right to perform, display, copy and reproduce the movie.


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