A copyright is the legal right that is granted to an author or creator of an original work. This includes the legal rights to copy, adapt and distribute that work. A copyright agreement is any agreement of or relating to a copyright, such as a transfer of these rights or permission to use copyrighted material.
Most countries offer some kind of copyright protection under certain conditions. There is no such thing as an international copyright that will automatically protect a creator’s work throughout the world. A copyright agreement for foreign markets can often be negotiated for a creator through an agent or a lawyer.
Initially, copyrights only applied to books. In the 19th century, protected material was expanded to include things such as maps, music, photographs and paintings. Copyright law was further expanded in the 20th century to include movies, computer programs, choreography and architecture.
In most jurisdictions, copyright protection begins the minute a work is complete. There is no formal process that a creator must go through to obtain a copyright. A creator automatically holds the copyright to any work he creates. If a piece of work is created by an employee specifically for his employer, or if someone commissions the work, then a copyright agreement would give the copyrights to the employer or commissioner instead of the creator.
There are still benefits to formally registering a copyright. Registration with a government copyright office creates a public record of the copyright claim and can protect the filer in case of a legal complaint. Registering a copyright agreement typically can be done online or through the mail, both for a minimal fee.
Copyrights are not limitless. There are many things that can not be protected, including ideas, titles and names. An exception to copyright law is called “fair use.” This means that limited portions of copyrighted works — including quotes — typically may be used for purposes of commentary, news reporting and scholarly reports without infringing on the creator’s copyright. There generally are no legal limits on how much of a work may be used under the fair use doctrine, so a claim of copyright infringement would be decided on a case-by-case basis.
In instances where fair use does not apply, it is sometimes possible to get a copyright agreement from the copyright holder. This allows another person to use the creator’s work as though he or she were actually the copyright holder. Another type of copyright agreement is a copyright transfer. A copyright holder may transfer any or all of the exclusive rights to another person. In both of these cases, it is necessary to have a written contract prepared by an attorney.