What rights does a copyright owner have?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Aug 1, 2017

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Under the United State’s Code Title 17 section 106 (copyright law), copyright owners have a number of exclusive rights such as the right to reproduce the work in copies of phonorecords. Under copyright law copyright owners also have the exclusive right to prepare derivative works based upon the work as well as the right to:

  • Distribute copies or phonorecords of the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending.
  • Perform the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audio­ visual works.
  • Display the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audio visual work.

In the case of sound recordings, copyright law gives copyright owners the exclusive right to perform the work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.

A derivative work is a reworking of your old copyrighted material into something new. The best example is a song remix. While the lyrics and traces of the melody may be the same, the overall song is different and can be exclusively re-copyrighted. This right is given exclusively to the copyright owner to prevent plagiarism. Plagiarism occurs when a copyright infringer makes slight changes to the work and then claims it as their own.

Under the fair use doctrine, found in section 107 of the 1976 Copyright Act, there are some examples of uses that others can do without being sued:

  • Quotation of excerpts in a review or criticism for purposes of illustration or comment;
  • Quotation of short passages in a scholarly or technical work, for illustration or clarification of the author’s observations;
  • Use in a parody of some of the content of the work parodied;
  • Summary of an address or article, with brief quotations, in a news report;
  • Reproduction by a library of a portion of a work to replace part of a damaged copy;
  • Reproduction by a teacher or student of a small part of a work to illustrate a lesson;
  • Reproduction of a work in legislative or judicial proceedings or reports;
  • Incidental and fortuitous reproduction in a newsreel or broadcast of a work located in the scene of an event being reported.”

Under copyright law, the author also has the right to authorize others to exercise these rights and prevent others from exercising them regarding his or her copyrighted work. 

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