Rights and ownership of Copyrighted work in the digital age

Intellectual Property laws were ideated and meant for innovators and creators. The objective of this set of laws was to ensure protection for any creative output of an individual or an entity. 

While other types of IP laws protect other forms of creations, Copyright ownership gives the owner the exclusive right to use the work they create. This exclusive set of rights has exceptions as well and ensures that while the rights of its creator are protected, they can also easily and lawfully commercialise the work by sharing it with others.

When a person creates an original work, fixed in a tangible medium, he or she automatically owns the copyright to the work. This “work” could be a painting, a novel, a poem, a photograph, a video recording, an audio recording, and more recently, an NFT as well! 

To elaborate, more types of works that are eligible for copyright protection, are:

  • Audiovisual works, such as TV shows, movies, and online videos
  • Sound recordings and musical compositions
  • Written works, such as lectures, articles, books, and musical compositions
  • Visual works, such as paintings, posters, and advertisements
  • Video games and computer software
  • Dramatic works, such as plays and musicals

Is copyright an inherent right?

Copyright is an inherent right that exists in all works that are original and have been created by the author.

How can copyright be used or transferred lawfully?

In order to help the creator or owner of the work commerclaise their work and generate income from it, in some circumstances, the law makes it possible for other parties to use a copyright-protected work without infringing the owner’s copyright. Rights in a Copyright work can be transferred through: 

  • An assignment – perpetual, time-based, etc.
  • A License – exclusive, non-exclusive, royalty-based, one-time license, etc.
  • Work for hire – between companies and their employees, consultants, freelancers, agencies, etc.

In the past few years, the ambit of copyright laws has changed drastically, owing to the growing use of the internet. Social media further promoted the concept of “creating content for money” which can be shared online and commercialised easily.
While sharing and promoting content has definitely become easier, copying and infringing one’s rights in their original work has become a lot easier as well! 

What type of use of copyright cannot be considered as infringement?

While this concept is not as straight-jacketed as one may think, there are certain actions that are allowed to be undertaken by third-party entities while using someone else’s copyright, even without their permission, such as:- For inspiration. While adaptation needs express consent, inspired, but not copied work can be used by a third party. However, there is a very thin line of difference here and the same needs to be well understood. – For education, research purposes. Any content can be used for educational, research or academic purposes. While doing so, it’s best to credit the original author of the work.

What is the doctrine of “Fair Use”?

The doctrine of Fair Use is an exception to the rule of the owner’s exclusive right in a work. All uses of copyright-protected works that fall under Fair Use do not infringe the copyright owner’s rights. 
The Copyright rights are limited by the doctrine of “fair use,” under which certain uses of copyrighted material such as, but not limited to, criticism, commentary, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research may be considered fair. 

While determining Fair Use, it is important to understand and consider the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes. It is also important to consider the nature of the copyrighted work and the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole. 
It is important to understand that uses that harm the copyright owner’s ability to profit from his or her original work by serving as a replacement for demand for that work are less likely to be fair uses.

How can one protect their content on the internet?

As an individual content creator, it’s important to keep an eye out for infringers or people who would want to copy your content. For static content like images and artwork, it’s best to use a watermark. 
As an organisation or company sharing its content on its website – the best way is to add detailed copyright policies on your website and keep a check on possible infringers.
Companies can also choose to send takedown notices in case they identify their content is being used by unauthorized third parties. 

Is linking to the source sufficient enough for fair use of a copyrighted work?

With growing internet and social media use, its become to use someone else’s work with a “source” URL and consider the same to be fair use. But is it really? Perhaps not. The doctrine of fair use has several aspects and limitations to it and only when a user is considering and following all of the requirements, will the doctrine be effectively invoked. 
Generally, a copyrighted work is protected for the length of the author’s life plus another sixty years. In the case of joint works, copyright protection is granted for the length of the life of the last surviving joint creator plus another 60 years. 

How to file a copyright application?

Filing a copyright application is fairly simple: 
You need to understand the type and category of your work and accordingly file the application along with author details and publication status of the work. You will also need to submit copies of the work.

Why should one file a copyright application?

While copyright is an inherent right, a copyright application should be filed to secure the ownership of the work, get a clear ownership title on the work, and have a use date or creation date of the copyrighted work.

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