Newspapers & Copyright Laws

By David Carnes

Copyright law protects works of authorship, including material printed in newspapers. Although there is no area of copyright law that applies specifically to newspapers, the unique features of newspaper publishing -- the corporate ownership of most newspapers, for example -- raise questions about how copyright law should be applied.

Scope of Protection

Copyright law protects the expression of ideas; not the ideas themselves. This concept raises difficulties in newspaper publishing, because newspaper articles are often highly fact-dependent, and facts cannot be copyrighted. The extent to which copyright protection applies to a newspaper article depends on the degree of original content. A list of baseball scores, for example, would not enjoy copyright protection. On the other hand, an editorial about the political situation in a particular country might contain enough original content to be protected under copyright law.

The Work for Hire Doctrine

The work for hire doctrine is an exception to copyright law that allows an employee to agree that the copyrights to works he creates belong to his employer. Since most newspapers are owned by companies, and since most newspaper employment contracts contain a "work for hire" clause, the copyright to a newspaper article typically belongs to the employer as soon as the article is written.

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Copyright Registration for Newspapers

An unregistered work of authorship enjoys basic copyright protection that allows the copyright owner to receive infringement damages up to the amount that he can prove. If the work is registered, the copyright owner can receive statutory damages of up to $150,000 per act of infringement, as of 2012, without proving damages. Since many newspapers and other publications publish daily, the U.S. Copyright Office allows copyright owners to register groups of copyrighted works by filing a single application. If the work is registered within three months of first publication, the copyright owner can claim statutory damages even if the infringement occurred before the work was registered.


The expiration of copyrights is governed by a complex set of laws that depend on many factors, including when the work was created and who the original copyright owner was. Generally, however, a copyright owned by a company under the work for hire doctrine expires either 95 years after it was first published or 120 years after it was created, whichever comes first. If the author's employment contract did not contain a work for hire clause, the copyright generally endures for 70 years after the author's death.

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What Are the Copyright Laws for Images?



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What Happens If You Break Copyright Laws?

Copyright protects creators of original works, such as songs, books, articles, software, art and photos. Anyone who republishes, reproduces or redistributes a copyrighted work without the owners' permission is guilty of copyright infringement, although there are a few important exceptions to this rule. Copyright infringement is a federal offense, and the laws governing copyright infringement, including penalties, are contained in Title 17 of the United States Legal Code.

Copyright Rules & Time Limits

U.S. federal laws provide the basis for copyright rules and time limits. The general purpose of copyright law is to encourage and protect artistic and literary creativity by giving artists and authors legal protection over their creations. However, because the general public also has an interest in acquiring the right to use those creations, copyrights do not exist in perpetuity.

How to Copyright Printed Music Ideas

As a songwriter, musician, composer or producer, you own basic copyrights in your musical compositions, instrumentals, songs and lyrics as soon as you create the music and fix it in a tangible form. Tangible forms include any written or recorded musical notes or words. In general, you can claim copyrights to any original musical works you create, unless the works have been commissioned by someone else or produced as works-for-hire. You can register your copyrights as published or unpublished musical works with the U.S. Copyright Office. In order to qualify for copyright registration and protection, your printed or recorded music must be fully conceptualized and not mere ideas or basic concepts. Copyright law prohibits the registration of mere ideas.


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