As a business owner, you need to be ready to protect your investments from avoidable lawsuits. Knowing the fair use and public use laws can help you determine if you are violating a copyright with your advertisements or publications.
Copyrights apply to just about every work that has been created in nearly every medium. They protect recordings, literature, designs, and art. The holder of a copyright has the power to decide when to publish a work, reproduce it, or display it publicly. A copyright holder may also decide not to publish or to prohibit the use of the work entirely.
To simplify the system, current copyright law automatically applies a copyright to any work that is created without the need to file for protection. Those who would like to use a copyrighted work for advertising or developing a new product must first obtain the permission of the owner of the copyright.
The Public Domain
There are many works of literature, film, and art that are not protected by copyright laws. These works are considered to be part of the public domain. They belong to everyone, and anyone can reproduce or distribute them without restriction.
There are four ways in which a work can become part of the public domain:
- Expiration of an existing copyright
- The copyright owner failed to renew the copyright
- It was never protected in the first place
- The copyright owner declares it to be public
The date of publication can help to estimate whether or not a work is part of the public domain. As of January 1, 1978, a copyright automatically applies to a creator of a work for the lifetime of the author plus 70 years. Prior to this date, the copyright rules are a bit murky. Works published before January 1, 1923 did not automatically receive a copyright protection, and now many older works have become part of the public domain.
Between 1923 and 1978 the law underwent several revisions, and the status of copyright protection on any single work should be questioned. Laws for sound recordings and renewals of copyright protections have also changed in the last several decades. This makes it impossible to know for certain if a work is protected based on the date of publication alone. To complicate matters, the requirements for a declaration of a copyright have also been revised.
If you are uncertain if a work is in the public domain, it is important to research the copyright thoroughly before using the work in any significant way without permission.
Fair Use of Copyrighted Material
Sometimes you do not need permission to use a copyrighted work. A copyright cannot be used to limit the freedom to express opinions or to educate. The fair use provisions in the law allow for a copyrighted work to be used without obtaining permission in limited circumstances.
The courts reference four guidelines to determine if the use of a work is allowed under the fair use laws:
- The purpose of the use
- The nature of the copyrighted material
- Amount of material copied
- Market value of the work copied
You may only copy a work without permission for certain defined purposes. The law allows citation for comment, criticism, or news reporting. An educator may make copies for teaching. The work can be used for research and study. It can also be used for parody.
The courts also look at how much of the work you have copied and how transformative your new presentation of the material is. Fair use protects only excerpts or quotes in a reasonable quantity. You must also be careful not to deprive another of any potential income by profiting from the distribution of the work or damaging the marketability of the work.
Copyright laws limit the use of creative works to protect their creators from exploitation. Knowing the basics of this law can help you determine when your company may use the publication of another. If you are unsure about the appropriate use of copyrighted material, contact a legal expert for guidance.
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.