Copyright Basics FAQ

What is copyright?

Copyright is a legal device that provides the creator of a work of art or literature, or a work that conveys information or ideas, the right to control how the work is used. Those rights include:

  • reproduction right -- the right to make copies of a protected work,
  • distribution right -- the right to sell or otherwise distribute copies to the public,
  • right to create adaptations (or derivative works) -- the right to prepare new works based on the protected work, and
  • performance and display rights -- the right to perform a protected work such as a stage play or display a work in public.

An author's copyright rights may be exercised only by the author or a person or entity to whom the author has transferred all or part of her rights. If someone wrongfully uses the protected material, the copyright owner can sue and obtain compensation for any losses suffered.

For a complete discussion of copyright law, see The Copyright Handbook, by attorney Stephen Fishman. 


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