Copyright Infringement

How to Avoid Copyright Infringement

Intellectual property is one of the most arcane and complicated subjects in the legal field. Most attorneys who handle copyrights, patents and trademarks specialize in the field for a variety of reasons not the least of which is the fact that copyright in particular has expanded and changed in a world dominated by technology and social media. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act is an example of new Intellectual Property IP Protection.

The best way to avoid running afoul of someone else’s copyright is first to understand the meaning and purpose of the law itself. Once you understand the limits of copyright, how copyright works and why they are important to both creators and audiences, it is a little easier to sort out the various details of how rights are established and enforced. Copyrighted works aren’t off-limits to everyone but the creator, as many people imagine. On the contrary. A copyright becomes more valuable the more it is shared and distributed.

If you want to avoid violating a U.S. copyright, copyright laws California or even an internationally enforceable copyright here are some things to consider.

What is a Copyright?

When any work is fixed in a tangible form, meaning it is written down, recorded, photographed or captured on video, the person or persons who produced the writing, recording or photos acquire a copyright in the work. This right is established in United States law by Congress under their constitutional power to “promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”

Copyright laws grant the owner a number of exclusive rights which no other person can exercise without license or permission from the copyright holder. Among these rights are the right to copy, distribute, publicly perform, create derivative works from or exploit the copyrighted work commercially.

Under current U.S. copyright laws like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, copyrights expire 70 years after the death of the copyright holder, meaning for all intents and purposes copyrights persist for the life of their author. To avoid violating a copyright, you must either wait for the work to fall into the public domain, obtain a license, or make a permissible use of it.

What is Infringement?

The purpose of a copyright is to secure the financial interest of its author in the form of a “monopoly.” Once a work is created, the author owns the exclusive right to commercially exploit the work, meaning if it is a book, for example, only its author can distribute or sell it. Most often, these rights are licensed to others so a bookstore, for example, can be authorized to sell a book on an author or publisher’s behalf.
When someone infringes on this right, it means they are competing with the copyright owner for the market served by the copyrighted work. For example, if a bookseller starts making copies of a book and selling them without the author’s permission, they are reducing the number of potential customers for the original work. They are competing with the author using that author’s work as their product. This is called “copyright infringement.” The owner of the copyright can seek both compensatory and statutory damages against the infringing party by filing suit in a federal court of law. Avoiding copyright infringement can be considered either simple or complicated depending on the circumstances.

Fair Use

The limits of copyright are also codified in copyright laws. Not all uses or distributions of copyrighted work are infringement. Fair use is one of the most important copyright exemptions.
Any use of copyrighted work that does not compete commercially for its market can be considered a “fair use” of the work if it qualifies under one or more of the conditions spelled out in federal law. This is one the key ways some people can make sure they are avoiding copyright infringement.

For example, a critic can use portions of a copyrighted work to analyze or criticize it. A teacher can use a book in their class if their purpose is to promote the academic use of the work for his or her students. A journalist can use a photograph they do not own if their purpose is to publish the news or factual information for the benefit of the greater public.
This provision has limits, however, and there are few hard and fast rules about what does or does not constitute a legal use. It should also be pointed out that it is a defense against accusations of infringement. It is not a license for someone to go out and start finding ways to make use of copyrighted material in their own works.

From a legal standpoint, the best way to avoid violating a copyright is to hire an attorney who specializes in Intellectual Property IP Protection in advance and either obtain license from the copyright owner, or to simply avoid using copyrighted works altogether. Understanding the nature of copyright exemptions is very complex. If you do make use of someone else’s works, whether under copyright laws California, international laws or U.S. law, make certain you are doing so for a legitimate purpose such as teaching, journalism or criticism.

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