Friday, September 03, 2004

The impact of copyright

Copyright impacts us everyday, yet it is a concept most people know very little about. As an adjunct senior instructor at Syracuse University, I tend to cover a bit about copyright in every course. (It is useually quite an eye-opener for the students.) When I taught a class on digital assets (digitization), copyright was a very important topic and one that reared its ugly head for weeks as students came to terms with what copyright means.

When we take a book, for example, and digitize it, we have made a copy. If that book was published before 1923, it is in the public domain and anybody can make a copy of it legally. However, if the book was published after 1923, then copyright law comes into play. The U.S. Copyright Law give the following rights to the owner of the work:

  • To reproduce the work in copies or phonorecords;
  • To prepare derivative works based upon the work;
  • To distribute copies or phonorecords of the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending;
  • To perform the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
  • To display the copyrighted work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work; and
  • In the case of sound recordings, to perform the work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.

(See for additional information.)

As a persion who wants to make a copy of a copyrighted work, you must consider if your use will be fair (called Fair Use). Fair Use considers:

  • the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  • the nature of the copyrighted work;
  • amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  • the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

Each of these four factors must be considered when deciding if the use is fair or not. For example, if the copy takes away potential imcome (e.g., sales or copyright fees) from the owner of the work, then the use is not fair.

The U.S. Copyright Office has information on Fair Use at:

I'll blog more about copyright later. For now, here is an excellent resource for people who needed to decide is something is in the public domains.

"Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States" by Peter Hirtle

No comments: