What is copyright?

Plagiarism sign banWhen individuals create poems, stories, reviews, works of fiction, biographies or other writings seen as intellectual property, it belongs to them and them only. The difficulty is how to defend such intellectual activities from those who might exploit such imaginative ventures for their own use without compensation to the original writer. That is where copyright laws come in.

This set of laws shields the authors from plagiarism and so from those who would appropriate some or all of the original work of a writer as if it were their own. Copyright laws give the author the right to use his/her works as they want to and this applies to cinema, applications and architecture as well as writings. This means the author can toss, sell the content or offer certain publication rights to others. Copyright laws give the author exclusive rights to profits from his creative works. This protection enables writers to have the independence to continue to create, aware that their efforts are defended under national and international copyright laws.

Not all activities come within copyright protection. You are unable to copyright a fact. Concepts, methods and systems also cannot be copyright protected. While facts and ideas can not, in and of themselves, be copyright, how they are presented can be copyrighted, if the presentation is original to the author.

Once an author writes a story or essay or anything else, that piece of writing is immediately under copyright. Absolutely no one has any legal right to use it without the approval of the writer. However, without registering the copyright, the writer will have a more troublesome time verifying ownership should plagiarism take place. Not registering a copyright also effects any monetary settlement, which will be lower with an unregistered copyright.

While a registered copyright does not last forever, it does protect the author’s interests. If the work was created after the laws altered in February 1, 1978, the protection lasts for the life of the writer plus 70 years. This provides his children or beneficiaries the opportunity to also benefit from the copyrighted work. This copyright may not be renewed. Copyrights for works prior to 1978 varied depending on several factors. These copyrights can be renewed for 25 years with protections and are regulated under the 1909 copyright laws.

Once a copyright ends, there is no more recourse for the author or beneficiaries. When this occurs, the work comes into public domain. This means that the work can be printed, published or alternatively used for derivative works.

This article is based on US law.

Useful resources:

  • http://www.plagiarismchecker.net/ – a free plagiarism checker with articles, resources and lesson plans on avoiding plagiarism.
  • JISC – plagiarism resources and advice from the Joint Information Systems Committee.
  • PlagiarismAdvice.org – JISC’s specific plagiarism advice website.

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