A copyright is similar to a patent in that it protects work done by one individual from having another individual use or enjoy that work without the authorization of the originator. The law covering copyright protection in the United States is found in Title 17 of the U.S. Code. Protection is accorded to literary, artistic, dramatic, or musical works regardless of whether the work has been published or not.
Among the rights limited to the individual holding the copyright are:
Reproduce – Only the owner may make copies
Distribute – Only the owner may make and distribute copies regardless of whether the distribution is for financial gain.
Perform/Display – To read (aloud), act, play (musical instrument), sing, use a choreographic routine, or replay, as in an audio or visual means, is reserved for the owner.
Derive – Only the owner may prepare work derived from the original. As an example, a sequel or prequel to a book cannot be taken up without the permission of the copyright holder.
A section of the 1976 Copyright Act (106A), allots copyrights to some authors of visual art that include the rights of integrity and attribution.
The Transfer of Copyright Rights
Although copyright protection originally belongs to the creator of a piece of art, music or writing and begins as soon as the work has achieved a physical form it can be transferred. The originator of the work can transfer his or her rights by selling, leasing or donating those rights. Copyright law can be complicated. For that reason, if a copyright represents a large sum of money or has the potential to do so, a copyright lawyer should be consulted.
It is important to note that simply buying a copyrighted article or coming into possession of it in some other manner does not convey the copyright of that work. The copyright itself must be transferred in order for it to change hands. Reassigning copyrights to another must be done in writing with the owner’s or his duly authorized agent signature.
Copyrights do not Belong to Creator
In circumstances where the creator of a piece of art, literature, or music does their creating in their capacity as an employee, the situation is different with regard to the ownership of the work. In such cases, the employer owns the work and not the one who created it.
If the work is a group effort by individuals, who are working on their own behalf, the ownership of the work is shared among them. This is another situation where consulting with a copyright lawyer is very important. Because copyright ownership may represent large sums of money the owners need to be aware of their rights.