Why do we have property rights?

Property rights are what allow citizens to own land, factories, and equipment. Imagine what would happen to a farmer if he had no legal recourse against trespassers or no guarantee that other companies or the government wouldn’t take his land. If he had no reason to believe that he could sell his own crops for a profit, why would he plant them in the first place?

What would happen to J. K. Rowling if she had no rights to her own stories? We would never have had a second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, or seventh Harry Potter book because she wouldn’t have been getting any profits from her first book. If someone else could freely make copies and sell them, why would Rowling bother writing a second book?

Just like property laws guarantee that a farmer can keep his own crop, copyright laws guarantee that authors, artists, and engineers can keep the profits from their own work.

Property rights exist because they encourage new business and entrepreneurship, which help our economy grow.

What things can be copyrighted?

Written works, sounds recordings, music, plays, and computer software can be copyrighted.

Ideas and facts cannot be copyrighted, but expressions of ideas and facts can.

What exclusive rights do copyright holders have?

Copyright holders have the exclusive right to: copy, sell, make derivate works, perform or display in public, and distribute their own works.

How does someone get a copyright?

You automatically get a copyright on everything you create. No notification or registration is required. Placing a copyright symbol © on the work reminds other people that the work is copyrighted. You may choose to register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office for a small fee. This will help you prove in a court that the copyright actually belongs to you and not someone else if there is ever a lawsuit.

What exceptions are there to the copyright law?

Sometimes it is legal to copy someone else’s work, even if it is copyrighted. In deciding if using someone else’s work is legal, the courts use the following fair use guidelines:

Purpose – Why are you using the work? If it is for educational purposes, or for parody, it is usually OK to use it.

Amount – How much did you copy? If you are simply quoting one or two lines from a book, that is usually legal. If you are copying extended passages, you could get in trouble. There is no hard and fast rule as to how much is too much; this is decided on a case by case basis.

Effect on markets – Is anyone losing money? If you buy a CD and simply make a backup copy on your computer for yourself, that is legal, because you’ve already purchased the CD. If, however, you buy a CD and give a copy of it to a friend, that is illegal, because your friend is now getting that music for free instead of paying the musician for it.

What is the Creative Commons license?

The Creative Commons license allows you to give away some, but not all, of your rights to your works. See the Creative Commons website for more information.

What are public domain works?

Works in the public domain are not copyrighted and are free for anyone to use. Many works of the government belong in the public domain. You can place your own works in the public domain simply by stating, “I hereby place this work in the public domain.”

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