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Ensuring you comply with latest U.S. Copyright legislation

by  David Dwyer on  18/08/2017    974 Reads

An overview of U. S. Copyright legislation

An overview of U.S. Copyright legislation

Digital content is borderless, it has never been easier to share content online, especially through social media. At the click of a mouse or tap of a screen, you can share something around the world.

Sharing that image can’t do any harm, surely? Well, yes it can. You might be infringing copyright law, either at home or overseas.

Copyright law remains a misunderstood legislation for many. The last thing you want is to inadvertently commit an infringement of copyright, resulting in costly legal action. However, it is also there to protect your business’ intellectual property. Copyright protection is essential to encouraging and rewarding innovation and new ideas, ensuring commercial revenues from intellectual property reach content creators.

The Internet and Copyright

The Internet is full of useful, easy to find information, which can be copied or downloaded equally easily. However, be warned: almost everything on the net is protected, to varying degrees, by existing copyright law.

Copyrighted works on the web include news stories, videos, novels, screenplays, music, graphics, pictures, movies, software, and even emails. The unique design of a website and its contents, whether text, graphics, audio, video etc, all constitute original material, which is copyrighted.

The laws established either by legislation or the courts that govern the Internet, including copyright laws, can hardly keep up.

What qualifies for Copyright protection? 

Copyright is an automatic intellectual property right. To qualify for copyright protection, a work must satisfy three elements

  1. The work of authorship must be “fixed in a tangible medium of expression.” In other words, the work must exist or have existed in some physical form. (Everything from writing and literary works, art and photography through to films, television broadcasts, music, digital content and audio recordings.)
  2. The work must be original and independently created by the author.
  3. Finally, there has to be some creative effort from the author behind the work, though there is no set rule about how much creativity is required.

How long does Copyright last?

Legislation varies around the world. The principal legislation protecting intellectual property rights throughout the United States of America has been the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, which been extensively updated over the years. The differing terms and Duration of Copyright, found in legislation can be obtained through the Copyright Office. As a rule however, the following is a guide:

By 1998, copyright protection for works created after January 1, 1978, lasted for more than a century (the life of the author plus 70 years).

For an anonymous work, a pseudonymous work, or works “made for hire”, the copyright lasts 95 years from the year of first publication, or a term of 120 years from the year of its creation, whichever expires first.

For works created before 1978, copyright protection varies. However, any work published before 1923 is now available for use in the public domain.

In addition, work published between 1923 and 1963, and not renewed, can be used freely too. However, if work has been renewed, then copyright lasts 95 years from the date of first publication.

The copyright for any work published between 1964 and 1977 lasts for 95 years from the date of publication. For any work created before 1978 and published before December 31, 2002, the copyright lasts at least until December 31, 2047.

The copyright has expired on all unpublished work created before 1978. Such work is now in the public domain in the United States.

Improving Copyright protection on the Internet

Additional copyright protection exists in the U.S. specifically tailored towards digital content, namely The 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Where a content creator feels their work has been subject to copyright infringement, they can notify the responsible Internet Service Provider (ISP)/Online Service Provider (OSP) highlighting the alleged infringement. The provider in question must then act “expeditiously” to remove copyrighted work once it receives the notification.

The United States Copyright Office provides invaluable advice and guidance on U.S Copyright law, helping you ensure all your company’s online content is protected. For more detailed information check out the official copyright rules and guidelines.

For further details of Copyright legislation in the UK, see our separate article.

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