What is copyright?
by Mike Goad
Although I am not a lawyer, or, perhaps, because I am not a lawyer, it seems
to me that concepts associated with copyright issues are sometimes made
unnecessarily difficult. I don't mean to say that copyright law is easy by any
means. However, it is my belief that interpretations and claims that are
often asserted concerning copyright do little more than cloud or confuse things,
and that sometimes it's done with that specific intention. While my interests
are primarily with literary copyright, much of what I will be discussing in this
article applies to music copyright, graphic copyright, and copyright
for other forms of original expression.
To start with, copyright deals with the right to
that has been created. This right to copy belongs to the creator of the
"something" that he created, or, if he was hired to create it, to the person or
company that hired him.
The "something" that has been created is called a work. It can be a
literary work, such as a novel, a poem, or a short story. It can also be
an artistic work, such as a painting, drawing, or sculpture, or a musical work.
Other types of works that can be protected by copyright are maps, movies, sound
recordings, and architectural drawings.
The creator of the work is called its author in copyright law.
It doesn't matter whether the work is a painting, a drawing, a song, or a novel.
In copyright, its creator is called its author.
(Besides the right to copy the work
there are also several other rights that belong exclusively to the author of the
work. I will be discussing these in more detail in a future article.)
Two things are required for a work to be copyright protected. It must
be an original creation and it must be fixed in some
Originality is a prerequisite for copyright. A work that
is assembled from pre-existing material or that is developed by procedure will
have little or no originality to it. There must be some creativity
involved for a work to be copyrighted.
A copyright protected work must be fixed in some tangible format.
As I am writing this, my words are not protected because, if the computer is
turned off or loses power before this text is saved, what I have written will go
away and all I have left is the concepts and ideas that I wrote down. When
I save the file I am writing this to, the words are recorded to the hard drive
of my computer. The tangible format that they are saved to is the file
that resides on my computer.
In the simplest textual form, the tangible form required by copyright law
is the recording of words onto some sort of surface, usually paper. As
original, creative text flows from the pencil or pen, or as it is pounded into
the paper with an old-fashioned typewriter, the copyright protection for those
For other types of work, the medium in which the work is fixed is different.
Movies are fixed in the film, videos in the tape, paintings "in" the canvas and so
The key is that to be copyrightable a work must be in a form that can be
What, then, is copyright? Copyright is a set of rights that
belong exclusively to the author of an original, creative work. The
most basic of these rights is the right to make a copy of the work.
Except as allowed in the copyright law, making a copy of the work or any
portion of the work is an infringement of this right.