What is Copyright Management?

C. Mitchell

Copyright management, broadly speaking, is any means a copyright owner takes to identify a work as copyrighted, and to protect that work from infringement. Under most national laws, copyrights automatically attach to works that are “fixed in a tangible medium,” which typically includes both hard copy and digital or electronic iterations of work. Registration with a copyright office is not usually required. Copyright management information is any sort of information that would indicate to an outside observer that the work is protected. It can be as simple as a work’s title or author, or as complicated as binding terms and conditions for use.

Copyright management covers both hard copy and digital versions of a work.
Copyright management covers both hard copy and digital versions of a work.

Even though copyrights may attach to most works automatically, rights management is typically up to the copyright owner. Most of the time, copyright infringement can only be prosecuted if the copyright owner took at least minimal steps to protect or identify the copyright. Copyright management is the name given to the copyright owner’s efforts at copyright protection and rights management.

The most basic copyright management identifies the work. By affixing a title to a novel, for instance, or putting an artist’s name on a sound recording, the work is identified as not only fixed, but also owned. This information, though basic, is usually enough to put an outside party on notice that the work is protected or owned by another, and as such is considered in most places to be “copyright management information.” Identifying the work is one of the simplest tips for copyright management.

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Copyright owners can and often do go further to protect their works. Rights of use contracts, limited reprint licenses, and distribution agreements usually contain certain clauses directed to the management of copyright. Derivative users who reprint copyrighted work must often identify the original author and clearly state that the work is copyrighted, for instance. Also, authors who allow their work to be printed and published by outside publishing houses may assign the copyright to the publisher, but usually reserve some rights to manage or use the copyright. The author may want to publish portions of the book on a personal website, for instance, teach portions of the text in class, or repackage the work in another form at a later date, as in a screenplay.

Copyright management is also increasingly popular in digital media products. Songs and movies, although frequently shared online, are in fact protected by copyrights in most jurisdictions. Digital copyright owners often use what is known as “digital rights management” as a means of copyright enforcement. Digital rights management, or DRM, is a copyright infringement prevention tool that is embedded in DVDs and most music CDs to prevent the content from being copied. DRM is a form of copyright management because it controls how the copyrighted content is used.

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