Copyright is a form of legal protection that grants authors, artists and other creators a set of exclusive rights to their work. Copyright rights include exclusive rights to reproduction, to create derivative works, to distribute the work and to display or perform the work publicly. These rights are subject to certain limitations, but by and large, the holder of copyright rights to a work is the only person who may authorize the work to be used in any of those ways.
The right of reproduction is the most common of the copyright rights. It involves producing a material object in which the copyrighted work is contained or embodied. These might be in the form of copies or recordings. “Copies” for the purpose of copyright rights does not necessarily require a hard copy — it could be a computer file that contains a copy of the work. An audio file that was created by copying a song from a compact disc onto a computer’s hard drive is also considered the reproduction of a recording.
The right to create derivative works gives the copyright holder the right to adapt the work in order to create a whole new work. An adaptation for the purpose of copyright rights can be anything from creating a movie out of a novel to a band covering an existing song. Whenever there is a revision of an earlier work, it is said to be the creation of a derivative.
The right to distribute works is very simple. Any form of transfer, including giving away or renting copies of a copyrighted work, involves the right to distribute. There often are very strong limitations to this, however. For instance, the first sale doctrine grants the first purchaser of a legal copy of any work a license to resell the work. This license is transferred to every subsequent purchaser of the copy of the work.
Copyright rights for a work grant the holder the sole right to display or perform the work publicly. The term “performance” is defined very broadly under copyright law. Not only does the obvious instance of a band playing a song count as a performance, but a movie theater showing a movie also counts as a public performance. There can be several exceptions to this right, however. These exceptions mostly exempt schools, charities and other non-commercial organizations from having to obtain a license before performing a work.