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Engineering LibreTexts

3.2F: Copyright details

  • Page ID
    11589
  • Obtaining Copyright Protection

    In the United States, a copyright is obtained by the simple act of creating the original work. In other words, when an author writes down that song, makes that film, or designs that program, he or she automatically has the copyright. However, for a work that will be used commercially, it is advisable to register for a copyright with the US Copyright Office. A registered copyright is needed in order to bring legal action against someone who has used a work without permission.

    First Sale Doctrine

    If an artist creates a painting and sells it to a collector who then, for whatever reason, proceeds to destroy it, does the original artist have any recourse? What if the collector, instead of destroying it, begins making copies of it and sells them? Is this allowed? The first sale doctrine is a part of copyright law that addresses this, as shown below[4]:

    The first sale doctrine, codified at 17 U.S.C. § 109, provides that an individual who knowingly purchases a copy of a copyrighted work from the copyright holder receives the right to sell, display or otherwise dispose of that particular copy, notwithstanding the interests of the copyright owner.

    So, in our examples, the copyright owner has no recourse if the collector destroys her artwork. But the collector does not have the right to make copies of the artwork.

    Fair Use

    Another important provision within copyright law is that of fair use. Fair use is a limitation on copyright law that allows for the use of protected works without prior authorization in specific cases. For example, if a teacher wanted to discuss a current event in her class, she could pass out copies of a copyrighted news story to her students without first getting permission. Fair use is also what allows a student to quote a small portion of a copyrighted work in a research paper.

    Unfortunately, the specific guidelines for what is considered fair use and what constitutes copyright violation are not well defined. Fair use is a well-known and respected concept and will only be challenged when copyright holders feel that the integrity or market value of their work is being threatened. The following four factors are considered when determining if something constitutes fair use: [5]

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

    If you are ever considering using a copyrighted work as part of something you are creating, you may be able to do so under fair use. However, it is always best to check with the copyright owner to be sure you are staying within your rights and not infringing upon theirs.