Why is Copyright so Complicated?

Copyright gives specific rights to the owner. (17 USC §106)

The copyright bargain: a balance between protection for the artist and rights for the consumer.
Robin Gross

There is no sense in owning the copyright unless you are going to use it. I don't think anyone wants to hold all of this stuff in a vault and not let anybody have it. It's only worth something once it's popular.
Hilary Rosen

Copyright arose from the concept that authors of works should enjoy a limited period of time to enjoy the fruits of their labor and retain specific rights to:

  • Reproduce the work as copies or phonorecords
  • Prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work
  • Distribute copies of the work
  • Perform the work publicly (i.e. music, dramatic, choreography, pantomimes, motion pictures, audiovisual works)
  • Display the work publicly (i.e. music, dramatic, choreography, pantomimes, motion pictures, audiovisual works)

Moral rights are also possible for some artistic works. (17 USC §106A) Part of Section 106A contains the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990, or VARA gives qualifying authors the following rights:

  • claim authorship
  • prevent the use of one's name on any work the author did not create
  • prevent use of one's name on any work that has been distorted, mutilated, or modified in a way that would be prejudicial to the author's honor or reputation
  • prevent distortion, mutilation, or modification that would prejudice the author's honor or reputation
  • prevent the destruction of a work of art if it is of "recognized stature"

(Source: Gassaway, Laura. Copyright and moral rights. (Copyright Corner). "Information Outlook," Vol. 6, No. 12 (December 2002), pp. 40-41)

So what does this mean for me?

Check out Copyright on Campus, from the Copyright Clearance Center, for more information and considerations on rights in your work.

copyright on campus


How do I register my work?

Links to the paper and online registration for works in the U.S is available from the U.S. Copyright Office. (Source: United States Copyright Office)

How do I find out who owns a work?

The U.S. Copyright Office has a search site to check ownership information for works.

Copyright Office

The Copyright Office also has a copyright guide, How to Investigate the Copyright Status of a Work, if your search is more complex.

Still confused about what to do?

Can I Use Someone Else’s Work? Can Someone Else Use Mine? (U.S. Copyright Office) This guide gives advice for many common permission scenarios.

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Questions? Contact the Libraries' Scholarly Communications Officer: Elizabeth Brown, (607) 777-4882.

Last Updated: 8/19/13