Numerous international laws protect intellectual property, the products of our minds. One prominent form of intellectual property, copyright, protects literary and artistic works. Copyright regulations are designed to form a set of lawful standards by which copyright obtainment, restrictions, compliance, and infringement are outlined.
Intellectual property can only cover non-rival goods, or products that can be used and disseminated simultaneously by a wide swath of people, regardless of time or location. According to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, protected works under copyright are defined as “every production in the literary and artistic domain, whatever may be the mode or form of its expression.” Of note is that copyright protects expression, not ideas themselves. The expression of an idea must be original and in a fixed, tangible form. Works of fiction or non-fiction, paintings and other visual art, music-related activities, and films and related technological endeavors are some items in the domain of copyright protection.
In most cases, the owner of a copyright is simply the creator of the literary or artistic work. In the event of the creator’s death, the copyright may transfer to the creator’s estate. Some countries allow employers to retain ownership of the assigned creations of their employees. Creators can also transfer or sell economic rights to outside parties, which is known as assignment, or license third parties to exercise certain rights.
One right creators cannot transfer is moral right, which generally seeks to preserve the creator’s unique connection with his creation. A “right of paternity," “right of anonymity,” and “right of integrity” all constitute moral rights. The former addresses a creator’s right to claim creation of the work, while the anonymity clause allows an author to distribute a work anonymously. In contrast, the latter right preserves the right of a creator to object to work alterations that reflect negatively on the creator.
The 1886 Berne Convention stated that the simple act of creating a work and putting it in expressible form granted the creator a natural copyright. However, today’s complex legalities encourage a work’s creator to have a legally binding proof of copyright, which can be obtained in many countries by filling out forms at copyright offices. Depending on the country, a work is under copyright protection from the moment it is in expressed form until no earlier than between 50 years and 75 years after the copyright owner’s death.
The most crucial and inclusive right copyright regulations afford is the right of exclusivity. In other words, the copyright owner alone determines when, how, and by whom his creation will be used. The two most powerful exclusivity rights that the owner retains in both public and private contexts are the right of reproduction and the right to create derivative works. Reproduction deals with the copying of the work; derivation comes into play when the original work directly inspires other works utilizing components of the original. Ownership rights restricted to public consumption are performance, distribution, display, and digital transmission rights.
Unless their actions are classified as fair use, such as for quotation, teaching, or news reporting purposes, those who violate copyright regulations are subject to stiff penalties. Documents such as the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Copyright Treaty and the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) have tightened copyright regulations enforcement in most countries. Once a copyright owner has registered copyright, he can pursue civil or even criminal sanctions. Infringement lawsuits are perhaps the most common course of action, with the plaintiff seeking compensation for monetary damages. Criminal penalties, as outlined in various regional statutes, are more limited to larger-scale crimes that demonstrate a sustained and repeated threat to commerce, such as piracy or counterfeiting.
Computer programs are afforded protection in both the individual copyright laws of several countries and, more inclusively, in the 1996 WIPO Copyright Treaty, which was signed by several countries. Multimedia — a digital mixture of sounds, words, and sights — is also protected under similar guidelines. Successful legal actions by authors, musicians, production companies, and manufacturers have also debunked the once-widespread belief that Internet distribution of copyrighted materials is lawful. Similarly, authors of exclusively online material are also subject to copyright protection, because their product is in a fixed, tangible form.