Monday, May 2, 2011

Copyright Law--a Primer

Attended an interesting workshop at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference this weekend. (Actually, I attended several great workshops!) This one was on copyright law. Sound boring? Not when it's relevant to what you're doing!

In this day and age, when e-publishing is common, and everyone shares everything on the internet, and absolutely everything has stacks upon stacks of copy protection, copyright law is more relevant than ever. So I thought I'd share a little of what I learned.

None of this constitutes legal advice. Get off your butt and pay for it! There--now I hopefully won't get sued. After all, this is second-hand information, and I'm not a copyright lawyer. As far as I know, it's all correct, but play it safe with professional help.

Ideas are not protectable. Only the physical expression of those ideas are protected. In other words, you can't copyright the idea that zombie monkeys invade the White House and eat the Vice-president's brain. But if you actually write a song, play, screenplay, poem, story, novel, about or paint a picture of it, that can be copyrighted.

These rights protect you, and then your heirs, from illegal use for the duration of your lifetime plus 70 years. So make sure you name in your will who gets the rights to what you publish, because it matters for 70 years.

After that, it becomes public domain, meaning everyone can use it. FYI: everything published prior to January 1st, 1923, is now in the public domain. That means anyone can use it, copy it, or whatever, for whatever, anytime they want.

It doesn't matter how many words you use--if something's under copyright, get permission to use it! An exception to this is if you are producing a satire or a parody. Parody is when you imitate something with the intent to ridicule it. Vampires Suck, for example, is a parody of Twilight. Satire is when you ridicule or copy something with the intent of causing change. Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal was satire. Another example is the NOBAMA bumper stickers you see. They use Obama's copyrighted artwork (you know--the stars and stripes in the "O"?), but get away with it because they are satirical.

That's it for today. Next time I'll talk about why I'm a proponent of Creative Commons copyright licenses.

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