Copyright is a set of exclusive rights regulating the use of a particular expression of an idea or information. At its most general, it is literally "the right to copy" an original creation. In most cases, these rights are of limited duration. The symbol for copyright is ©, and in some jurisdictions may alternatively be written as either (c) or (C).
Copyright law covers only the form or manner in which ideas or information have been manifested, the "form of material expression". It is not designed or intended to cover the actual idea, concepts, facts, styles, or techniques which may be embodied in or represented by the copyright work. For example, the copyright which subsists in relation to a Mickey Mouse cartoon prohibits unauthorized parties from distributing copies of the cartoon or creating derivative works which copy or mimic Disney's particular anthropomorphic mouse, but does not prohibit the creation of artistic works about anthropomorphic mice in general, so long as they are sufficiently different to not be deemed imitative of the original. In some jurisdictions, copyright law provides scope for satirical or interpretive works which themselves may be copyrighted. Other laws may impose legal restrictions on reproduction or use where copyright does not - such as trademarks and patents.
Copyright laws are standardized through international conventions such as the Berne Convention in some countries and are required by international organizations such as European Union or World Trade Organization from their member states.
Trans-national copyright law
The Berne Convention provides for national treatment of other countries' copyright. In other words, France must treat a work that is copyrighted in the UK as if it were copyrighted in France.
The regulations of the Berne Convention are incorporated into the World Trade Organization's TRIPS agreement, thus making the Berne Convention practically world-wide.
Obtaining and enforcing copyright
Typically, a work must meet minimal standards of originality in order to qualify for copyright, and the copyright expires after a set period of time (some jurisdictions may allow this to be extended). Different countries impose different tests, although generally the requirements are low; in the United Kingdom there has to be some 'skill, originality and work' which has gone into it. However, even fairly trivial amounts of these qualities are sufficient for determining whether a particular act of copying constitutes an infringement of the author's original expression. In Australia and the United Kingdom it has been held that a single word is insufficient to comprise a copyright work (single words or a string of words (usually less than eight) in the UK can be registered as "Trade Marks" instead).
It is important to understand that absence of the copyright symbol does not mean that the work is not covered by copyright. The work once created from originality through 'mental labor' is instantaneously considered copyrighted to that person.
The exclusive rights of the copyright holder
Several exclusive rights typically attach to the holder of a copyright:
- to produce copies or reproductions of the work and to sell those copies (including, typically, electronic copies)
- to import or export the work
- to create derivative works (works that adapt the original work)
- to perform or display the work publicly
- to sell or assign these rights to others
- to transmit or display by means of digital audio transmission (XM Satellite Radio, Sirius)
The phrase "exclusive right" means that only the copyright holder is free to exercise the attendant rights, and others are prohibited using the work without the consent of the copyright holder. Copyright is often called a "negative right", as it serves to prohibit people (e.g. readers, viewers, or listeners, and primarily publishers and would be publishers) from doing something, rather than permitting people (e.g. authors) to do something.
Fair use and fair dealing
See wikipedia:Fair use.
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