What is copyright?

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What is copyright?

Copyright is a form of intellectual property law that  protects original works of authorship by giving to copyright owners the exclusive right to authorize exploitation of their works  (recording, performance, dramatization or other uses of them) and profit from them.

Term of copyright protection

The law of copyright protects copyright owners from unauthorized copying or other use of their works for a stated period, usually until 50 to 75 years after the death of the  author (composer, songwriter, lyricist). If two or more authors have collaborated to create a work, the above period is calculated from the death of the last surviving author. After that period, the work falls into the public domain which means that it belongs to the world and is available for unrestricted use by anyone. Copyright protection stops and permission or payment for use are not required .

What kind of works are copyrightable?

All kinds of musical compositions and lyrics in the form of sound recordings ( classical and popular music, film music, music for TV, commercials, video games etc.) or in the form of printed editions (sheet music, folios, band parts and instrumental arrangements).

 Only original works are copyrightable. If a work is copied from another work it is not original. However, if substantial and creative changes have been made to an original work, the new work can claim copyright as a new, derivative work. But the author of the derivative work has to have the owner's consent first because only the owner of copyright in a work has the right to prepare, or to authorize someone else to create a new version of that work.

Song titles are not copyrightable but if a particular title has become so connected with one particular song, it is a violation of property rights if anyone  attempts to use it for another song.

The beginning of protection

A work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and  appears in material form so that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.A song, for instance, attracts legal protection  the moment that it is completed by its songwriter and exists in a tangible form, that is in the form of a lead sheet, for example, or of a tape recording. It does not have to be printed or published and it does not have to be registered either. No form of registration is required in most countries. However, copyright registration agencies are established all over the world and various kinds of works besides  music (books, scripts, maps, designs etc) are registered for the purpose of record and for assisting the proof of the existence of a work on a given date in case of infringement. Registration is accomplished by filing a form  with information about the work and copies of it on a record, tape or lead sheet.

 Ownership of copyright   

Under the Copyright Law of most countries, the creator of the work, that is the composer, songwriter, or lyricist is  the  first owner of copyright unless there is a written agreement by which the author assigns the copyright to another person or entity, such as a music publisher or a record company. In cases of works made for hire, that is when  the work is made by an employee in the course of his employment, or is specially ordered or commissioned, the employer or commissioning party is considered to be the author. In this case,  the employer owns all the rights in the work  unless the parties agree otherwise. For example, if someone hires a songwriter to write a song, as a contribution to a collective work (such as part of a motion picture or other audio-visual work) with there being a written agreement between the parties that it is to be for hire, the employer owns all the rights in this song.

 Copyright notice

All copies of copyrighted works bear a copyright notice  to inform the world of who the copyright owner of the work is.  This notice contains three elements: the letter  “c” in a circle  (or the word "Copyright," or the abbreviation "Copr."),  the year of first publication and the name of the copyright owner. Putting a copyright notice on copies of a work published is optional.  Errors in or omissions of the notice have no effect on copyright protection. However, although it is not required, it should always be included so that, in case of infringement, the infringers cannot raise the defense that they didn’t know that the work was copyrighted, since notice identifies the copyright owner and year of first publication. Also, copies of unpublished works should bear a notice to alert prospective publishers as to its status. In this case the notice should contain the word "Unpublished", the year of creation and the author’s name. There is also a sound recording copyright notice, indicated  by the letter "P" in a circle. This notice is for protection of the sounds on the record, not the musical composition, and usually belongs to the record company that recorded the music.

 The penalties for an infringement of copyright

In case of  violation of the exclusive rights granted by the copyright law to a copyright owner, the penalty for the infringer is to pay either "statutory damages" (the amount is at the discretion of the court), or the actual damages suffered plus the infringer's profits that were attributable to the infringement.

International copyright protection

International copyright conventions have been established in order to protect copyright works around the world.  The majority of countries  belong to at least one of them, The Berne Convention for the protection of Literary and Artistic Works . The countries that are members of these conventions offer protection to works created by nationals or residents in the other member countries.

This page was edited by F. Stoyannou, whose book on Greek Copyright Law is available online for Greek readers

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