Copyright Law FAQ
What is fair use?
Under the fair use doctrine of the U.S. copyright statute, it is permissible to use limited portions of a work including quotes, for purposes such as commentary, criticism, news reporting, and scholarly reports. There are no legal rules permitting the use of a specific number of words, a certain number of musical notes, or percentage of a work. Whether a particular use qualifies as fair use depends on all the circumstances.
What can’t be copyrighted?
- Works that have not been fixed in a tangible form of expression (for example, choreographic works that have not been notated or recorded, or improvisational speeches or performances that have not been written or recorded)
- Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; familiar symbols or designs; mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, or coloring; mere listings of ingredients or contents
- Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devices, as distinguished from a description, explanation, or illustration
- Works consisting entirely of information that is common property and containing no original authorship (for example: standard calendars, height and weight charts, tape measures and rulers, and lists or tables taken from public documents or other common sources)
What is a “work for hire”?
17 U.S.C. § 101 defines a “work made for hire” as: (1) a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment; or (2) if the parties expressly agree in a written instrument signed by them that the work shall be considered a work made for hire, a work specially ordered or commissioned for use as:
- a contribution to a collective work
- a part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work
- a translation
- a supplementary work
- a compilation
- an instructional text
- a test
- answer material for a test
- an atlas
The authors of a joint work are co-owners of the copyright in the work, unless they agree otherwise. Copyright in each separate contribution to a periodical or other collective work is distinct from copyright in the collective work, and the author of the separate contribution initially has the copyright to that portion of the work.
Do I need to mark the copyrighted work with a notice of copyright?
Not anymore, but use of the notice may be important because it informs the public that the work is protected by copyright, identifies the copyright owner, and shows the year of first publication. Furthermore, in the event that a work is infringed, if a proper notice of copyright appears on the published copy or copies to which a defendant in a copyright infringement suit had access, then no weight shall be given to such a defendant’s interposition of a defense based on innocent infringement in mitigation of actual or statutory damages, except as provided in section 504(c)(2) of the copyright law. Innocent infringement occurs when the infringer did not realize that the work was protected.
Can a copyright be transferred?
Yes, but the transfer of exclusive rights is not valid unless the transfer is in writing and signed by the owner of the rights conveyed or the owner’s agent. It is a good idea to record transfers of a copyright in the copyright office.