If you or your business wants to copyright something, it is essential that it does not infringe on a current copyright. There are certain legal protections in place to help individuals hoping to publish something containing previously existing materials. Fair use laws allow you to publish something holding a copyright in a limited capacity, and you do not have to get permission from the copyright holder first. Some materials exist within the public domain, so they are available for anyone to use. Learn more about these two doctrines so you do not accidentally overstep legal boundaries.
Is Something Fair Use?
There are a few factors to consider in order to determine if your artwork qualifies for fair use. The first thing to consider is if your piece is entirely unique. If you have written a completely new, fictional novel, then chances are you have not run afoul of anything. You should also consider whether what you are publishing is fictitious or if it is a biography.
Your business may be publishing something that consists of numerous book or film reviews. If that is the case, then your work of art may need to have some quotes from the books in question. Fair use laws allow you to publish a couple sentences in order to illustrate a point. However, you could not reprint an entire chapter. You may also need to determine if your piece will affect the marketability of the copyrighted work in question. For example, publishing a book review that includes a couple sentences will not impact the overall grosses of the book in question. However, copying and pasting entire sections could be viewed as negatively impacting the market value of the initial copyrighted novel. Fair use also covers things like parodies, news reports and criticisms.
Is Something in the Public Domain?
You are also allowed to publish an already existing work if it is within the public domain. This means anyone can publish parts of or the entire work without seeking permission first. A little bit of research may need to be done in order to determine if a work is in the public domain. If something was published in the United States prior to 1923, it exists in the public domain. Additionally, anything published by the U.S. government goes immediately into the public domain regardless of the publishing date. Things get a little more complicated with anything published after 1923.
If a work was published between 1923 and 1963, then it could be in the public domain. The only way a work would not currently fall into that category is if the author of the work renewed the copyright during the 28th year of publication. This extended the life of the copyright for an extra 47 years initially. However, a law passed in 1998 extended the lifespan to 67 years. The best thing to do is to check with the Copyright Office to see if a particular work currently has a copyright on it.
Anything published between 1964 and 1977 has copyright protection for 95 years. A work published after 1977 has a copyright that lasts throughout the author’s life plus an extra 70 years after the author’s death. If something was created through a work made for hire job, then the copyright lasts for 95 years from the date when the item was first published or 120 years from when the work was initially created.
Copyrights are intended to protect an author and his or her work. However, fair use laws and the existence of the public domain do give other individuals a little bit of leeway, so do some research in order to ensure your work does not infringe on someone else’s copyright.
The content on our website is only meant to provide general information and is not legal advice. We make our best efforts to make sure the information is accurate, but we cannot guarantee it. Do not rely on the content as legal advice. For assistance with legal problems or for a legal inquiry please contact you attorney.