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Copyright: Ownership and Protection
Contributor: Mike de Sousa, Director, AbleStable®, with reference to The Berne Convention

Creative professionals make their living from the efforts of their originality. The Internet has created an environment that makes it very easy to copy or plagiarise another persons work. We investigate the world of copyright ownership and how creative people can try to protect the fruit of their creative labours.

Please note, this article has been written to provide an overview of copyright issues and in no way presumes to act as either an authority, or as a comprehensive reference, on copyright issues.

Copyright: a definition
The term copyright can stand for a variety of principled and legal positions on the use or protection of original literary, musical, or artistic work. Copyright is often granted by law for a specified period of years (the Berne Convention states the terms of protection covers the life of the author plus seventy-five years).

The big ©
The copyright symbol © is the usual short hand method of asserting your copyright over original works. The copyright symbol is mostly used together with the owner’s name and year of creation (eg: AbleStable © 2002-2007). The text-only form can be expressed as: ablestable copyright 2002-2007.

Although it is no longer necessary for countries associating themselves with the Berne Convention to place a copyright notice on the original, or on each copy of an original work to claim protection, we advise you do. It takes little time and makes public your assertion of your primary copyright rights.

The Berne Convention
The Berne Convention is an international copyright treaty signed by ninety six countries, and requires member states of the 'Union' (the signitories) to recognise the rights of creative people. Those countries signing up to the Berne Convention must ensure their own legal system protects those producing original creative work, and grants exclusive right to translate, reproduce, perform, or adapt protected works.

Like most attempts at creating principles that will be followed by international signatories, The Berne Convention is not always strictly adhered to. If you wish to be wholly informed about how your own country applies The Berne Convention you are best advised to carry out a local search for 'copyright law'. View The Berne Convention as a starting point, not as a cast iron protective mechanism.

Your automatic protection
Unless you create a work for the sole purpose of selling it to a client as a work for hire, ownership of the copyright is usually conferred on the work’s creator. If work is a collaborative effort this is expressed as joint authorship in copyright law, and each of the collaborators automatically receives an even share of the copyright’s ownership interest.

Creative professionals should always be explicit with their clients from the start as to who will own the copyright of works produced for them. Creative professionals should be as clear as possible about any conditions or non-exclusive rights surrounding the copyright agreement.

What copyright protects
Copyright extends to a great many creative areas. All the Disciplines we list on our Directory Index can be the focus of copyright agreements. What follows is by no means an exhaustive list but a general guide to the kinds of areas that afford copyright protection:

Literary work: ad copy; computer programs; cookbooks; catalogues; fiction; non-fiction; poetry; prose; software code; textbooks
Performing Arts: audio-visual works; dramatic works; choreography; film (motion pictures); multimedia; musical compositions; scripts
Sound Recording: published and unpublished recordings of musical, dramatic, or literary works
Serials (literary works published in a series of instalments): bulletins; journals; digests; magazines; newspapers
Visual Arts: architectural works; cartoons; drawings; graphic designs; illustration; paintings; maps; photographs; sculpture; technical drawings; unique package designs

What copyright does not protect
Do not lull yourself into a false sense of security in thinking every creative action you take is automatically protected by the monolith of copyright laws that currently exist. What follows are the two most important exemptions to copyright law:

Copyright law does not protect the ideas and concepts surrounding a work, it only protects the expression of those ideas (not the procedure, process, method, system, discovery, name, slogan or title of creative works)
Work which is based on work in the public domain is only protected to the extent of the parts of the work which are original

The copyright owner's legal rights
Copyright laws give the owner a number of important legal rights concerning their original work. Under most copyright laws, the copyright owner has the exclusive right to do, or authorise others to do any of the following:

copy the work in the same or a different medium
prepare 'derivative' works based on the work
distribute copies of the work by sale, rental, lease or lending
display the work publicly
transmit the work electronically (including the Internet)

Copyright: original objects and copied objects
When an original work is sold it does not include the sale of the author’s exclusive copyright rights to make and distribute copies of the original work. The owner of a copy of an original work has the right to display the work, including selling it to another party, however, in law the sale of the copyrighted material in the work is often only permitted in a written transfer agreement signed by the owner.

At AbleStable® we have a non-exclusive copyright agreement which all creative professionals on our directory have signed up to. The non-exclusive copyright arrangement allows us to show their work while ensuring their ownership of copyright is maintained:
I have the authority to permit work to be presented at AbleStable®, and grant full permission to present my work (and any other work I represent as a Member) for the purposes of the directory of creative professionals known as 'AbleStable®'.

Any trademark depicted in Member's on-line work for the purpose of representing a Member's creative services, is the property of the trademark owner, who retains the rights to said trademark. Presented items may also be subject to copyright or other protection. Accordingly, the presentation at AbleStable® of any item does not constitute a license or permission to use such item. Downloading, copying, transmitting or any other use of the displayed item is prohibited.

Work for hire

Works for hire are defined differently depending on the country's legislative wording. An example of how 'work for hire' is defined follows:

work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment, or
a specially ordered or commissioned work created for use as a contribution to a collective work, as part of a motion picture or other audio-visual work, as a translation or a supplementary work, as a compilation, as an instructional text, as a test, as answer material for a test, or as an atlas, and the parties have signed a written 'work for hire' agreement

Creative professionals working for a company or in a contractual role should look carefully at their employment conditions concerning copyright issues. It is often the case that companies assume copyright rights over their employees. When creative professionals undertake freelance work on behalf of a larger company they should also take time to find out what the copyright arrangements are as there may be restrictions on their ownership of copyright, and the way they can present and copy their contracted work.

Protection and the Internet
There are practical preparations you can take to help ensure your copyright is protected on the Internet, however, the illegal copying and plagiarism of work is a fact of life on the Internet. The simplest and easiest method of protecting your work is not to show it publicly, an absurd position if your purpose is for your work to be seen by others.

There are various methods that can be used to make it more difficult to cut and paste images and text from Internet browsers, ranging from encrypting the web page to 'watermarking' original work. In the last analysis however, if someone wishes to copy work there is a relatively simple workaround to any method of protection.

Our advise is to present selected works on the Internet, perhaps with your trademark, name, and copyright notice clearly marked on any work. It is then very clear to potential offenders that you do not wish your work to be copied without permission.

Copyright is at once a simple and complex issue. Simple in so far as original works are generally accepted as automatically copyright protected and therefore the creator of an original work need do nothing for their work to be copyrighted, complex as, copyright protection and enforcement is a legal minefield and can be costly businesses to carry through.

The one essential principle to remember when presenting, publishing, or selling original work is to ensure the viewer and/or client is always very clear about the assertion of copyright (that an original work is said to originate from someone or some group).

A creative professional's main focus concerning copyright should be to make explicit in plain and simple language who owns copyright by describing the full implications of their copyright ownership statement.

Authors background
Mike de Sousa is the Director of AbleStable®. Mike has been commissioned as an artist, music composer, photographer, print and web site designer, and author.

If you observe inaccuracies in our in-house contributions or wish to contribute an article or review to be included at AbleStable® visit Feedback.

Copyright Notice
Although our contents are free to browse, copyright resides with the originators of all works accessed at AbleStable®, and unauthorised copying or publication of our site contents is strictly prohibited.

AbleStable © 2002-2007

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