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What rights does a copyright protect?

A copyright protects original works of authorship, including literary, musical, dramatic and artistic works. If something is copyrighted, the originator or an assignee maintains exclusive legal rights to that work. But what rights, exactly, are protected?

There are five exclusive rights of copyright owners. They are:

Right to reproduce – The copyright holder can reproduce the work anytime in any way. Others may not reproduce the work in any fashion or use any portion of the work in their own work (such as a song). It should be noted that publication is not necessary to be protected by copyright.

Right to create derivative works – A copyright holder can make a derivative of their copyrighted work. For example, adapting a novel into a screenplay or creating a song from a musical piece you wrote previously.

Right to distribute – A copyright holder controls when, why and how their work is shared. However, according to the first sale doctrine, once a piece of work is distributed, anyone may redistribute that copy. This allows a library (or individuals) to lend a piece of work to someone else without the copyright holder’s consent.

Right to perform the work publicly – Just as it states, a copyright holder can perform his or her own work in a public place. When it comes to preventing copyrighted work from being performed in public without your permission, there are some limitations. Performance copyright does not apply if no admission is charged, if a performance is for an educational course at a nonprofit educational institution, or if the performance is of a religious nature and is performed at a place of worship or for a religious assembly.

Right of public display – The copyright holder has the right to display their work at any time. Rights for others to display copyrighted work are the same as with public performance rights.

Understanding Fair Use

The Fair Use doctrine allows limited use of copyrighted material without permission from the copyright holder. This includes use of copyrighted material for criticism, news reporting, parody or education.

If you are a copyright holder who feels your rights have been infringed, or if you face an accusation of copyright infringement, it is best to confer with a knowledgeable copyright law firm.