What is copyright?

Find out what copyright is and what it means for students

Copyright iconWhenever individuals create poems, stories, novels, biographies or other writings regarded as intellectual property, it belongs to them and them alone. The problem is how to protect such intellectual pursuits from those who might exploit such creative ventures for their own use without compensation to the original author. That’s where copyright laws come in.

This set of laws protects the authors from plagiarism and so from those who would appropriate some or all of the original work of an author as if it were their own. Copyright laws gives the creator the right to use his works as he wants to and this applies to movies, software and architecture as well as writings. This means the author can toss, sell the work or grant certain publication rights to others. Copyright laws gives the author exclusive rights to profit from his creative works. This protection allows authors to have the freedom to continue to create, knowing that their creations are protected under national and international copyright laws.

Not all things come under copyright protection. You cannot copyright a fact. Ideas, methods and systems also cannot be copyright protected. While facts and ideas can not, in and of themselves, be copyright, how they are presented can be copyrighted, if the presentation is original to the author.

Once an author writes a story or essay or anything else, that piece of writing is automatically under copyright. No one has any legal right to use it without the permission of the author. However, without registering the copyright, the author will have a more difficult time proving ownership should plagiarism occur. Not registering a copyright also impacts any monetary compensation, which will be less with an unregistered copyright.

While a registered copyright doesn’t last forever, it does protect the author’s interests. If the work was created after the laws changed in sueuary 1, 1978, the protection lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years. This gives his children or heirs a chance to also benefit from the copyrighted work. This copyright cannot be renewed. Copyrights for works before 1978 varied depending on several factors. These copyrights can be renewed for 28 with protections and are governed under the 1909 copyright laws.

Once a copyright runs out, there is no more recourse for the author or heirs. At that point, the work comes into public domain. This means that the work can be printed, published or otherwise used for derivative works.

This article is based on US law.

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