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Restrictions and Fair Use...

Online copyright resources

Copyright Laws

Taken from "Obscenity, Libel, and Copyright" by Michael L. Meyerson, Associate Professor, University of Baltimore School of Law.

Copyright refers to the legal protection given to the works created by writers, musicians, and film makers. Essentially, those who create are given the exclusive right to use their creation and others must obtain their permission to perform or copy their work. This protection is not eternal; for works created after January 1, 1978, it lasts for the length of the author's life plus 50 years. For works created before this date, copyright protection generally exists for 75 years after first publication. To find out if a work is "in the public domain", that is, no longer protected, contact the Copyright Office The Library of Congress, 101 Independence Avenue, S.E. Washington, D.C. 20559

The major exception to the protection afforded to copyrighted works is "fair use." Although the law is not crystal clear on fair use, the concept basically means that you may use the material without permission for certain limited purposes, such as reviews, criticism, parody, and education. Be warned, however, not all such use is "fair use." Use is not "fair use" if it poses a potential threat to the market for the work. Thus, it is NOT fair use when a review of a play shows the entire first act or a video uses a substantial part of a song, and the producer would be liable for copyright infringement. Use for non-profit, as opposed to commercial, purposes is more likely to be considered "fair use," but only if less than a substantial portion of the work is repeated.

If you wish to use a significant portion of a copyrighted work, you should seek the permission of the copyright holder. Write a letter, explaining the purpose for your use, how much of the copyrighted material will be used, and asking for permission to s o use the material. Your letter should be sent to the person whose name appears next to the copyright symbol.

If you violate the copyright law by using protected material without permission in a way that does not constitute "fair use" you may be liable to pay monetary damages to the copyright holder. Damages can be anywhere between $250 and $10,000, depending on whether the infringement was deliberate and whether you made any money from the misuse. A court can also award damages equal to the actual amount of economic damage the unauthorized use has caused.

You, of course, may also wish to seek copyright protection for your own work. An original work is given this protection as soon as it is recorded or, in the words of the law, "fixed in a tangible form."

Place the word copyright or the copyright symbol, your name, and the year of creation on either the title or credit frames, or immediately following the beginning of the program or immediately before the end. You may also wish to register your work with the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress. The major advantages of registering your work are: before suing for copyright infringement, you must have your work registered it is easier to prove a valid copyright if you register shortly after your work is produced.