Top 10 Myths About Copyright

The top 10 list of common myths about copyright law.

The area of intellectual property law is international, complex and important in our modern society. Copyright is often confused with other types of intellectual property rights such as trademarks and patents. Here is the top 10 myths about copyright.

1. Copyright Notice

It isn't true that you need a copyright notice on any work created. Most countries now adhere to the Berne Convention and therefore provide protection to works with a notice or not.

2. Copyright Office

Many people believe that in order to copyright something, it needs to be registered at the copyright office. This isn't true, copyright is given when it is in a tangible medium, e.g. sound recording or paper. If, however, you want to take action for copyright infringement, you must register the work at the copyright office.

3. Internet

The myth that everything on the internet is in the public domain and can therefore be copied is not true! Public domain doesn't mean that it is available to the public, it is when the copyright term of protection has ended.

4. Death!

Many believe the myth about copyright protection stopping when the author or creator dies, but this isn't true. In most countries, the term of copyright protection is usually for a number of years after the death of the author. Depending on the type of work copyrighted, this can currently range from 25 to 70 years after the death of the author.

5. Ideas!

The fact that you can copyright an idea is a myth! You can only copyright the expression of an idea, for example, if your idea was a romance novel, the expression would be to put that idea onto paper. You can't copyright an idea, it must be in some tangible form.

6. The Whole Thing!

Another myth is that you have to copy the whole of the work to infringe on any copyright. This simply isn't true, whilst you can copy protected works in some circumstances, e.g. review or educational purposes, copyright applies in whole or in part.

7. Mailing it to myself!

A common myth to prove the date of creation is by mailing it to yourself, i.e. the poor man's copyright. The postal mark isn't a good indicator of the date of creation. It would be much better to publish the work somewhere or register at the copyright office.

8. Derivative works!

Another myth is to take the characters from one story and make your own new story. This is false and would be in breach of copyright as the author is entitled to the making of 'derivative works'.

9. If you didn't register you can't sue me!

This myth is false, you can register at any time in the length of time a copyright lasts, you only need to register to start proceedings and this can be done any time.

10. Quick Removal?

Another myth is that if, for example, you are told about a copyright infringement and immediately remove the offending piece, everything will be ok. This isn't true, you have still caused damage to the copyright holder and he is entitle to seek compensation in a court of law.

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Judith Barton
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Posted on Mar 1, 2011