Graham Cornish provides answers to ten tricky copyright questions in this blogpost. For further detail and answers to 851 other copyright questions see the newly-released fully up-to-date sixth edition of his classic book, Copyright: Interpreting the law for libraries, archives and information services.
Q1. Why is copyright so often ignored by users?
A. Because it is such an intangible thing, there is often a temptation to ignore it. Those who take this approach forget that they, too, own copyright in their own creations and would feel quite angry if this were abused by others.
Some of the restrictions placed on use by the law may seem petty or trivial but they are designed to allow some use of copyright material without unduly harming the interests of the creator (author). With the rapid growth of social networks, individuals are becoming more aware of the value of their creations such as photos and poems.
Q2. When does a work based on another work become original?
A. When sufficient time, effort, technical skills and knowledge have been used to make it reasonably clear the work is a new one and not merely a slavish copy.
Example: If you write your own poem about Jack and Jill, it is protected. If you simply reproduce the well known nursery rhyme with one or two minor changes, the reproduction is not original and not protected – but if you photocopy or scan the poem the typographical arrangement may be protected.
Q3. Who owns the copyright in children’s work in schools?
A. Despite the general myth that it is owned by the school, the child who creates anything in school owns the rights in it and it cannot be used for any purpose without the child’s (or guardian’s) permission.
Q4. What is the difference between a literary and a dramatic work?
A. A dramatic work is the non-spoken part of a presentation, which gives instructions as to how the play is to be executed. The words of a dramatic work are protected as a literary work. The term ‘dramatic work’ also covers choreography, dance and mime.
Example: A show like West Side Story has separate copyrights in the words (literary work), the choreography and the directions (dramatic work) and the music (musical work).
Q5. Who owns the copyright in a collection of images?
A. Each image has its own copyright just like the articles in a periodical. However, there will also be a copyright in a compilation made up of images. It may also be a database depending on the way the collection is put together.
Q6. Who owns the content of a sound recording?
A. It is very important to distinguish between the copyright in the sound recording and the copyright in the material recorded.
Example: A recording of a song by the Beatles has all sorts of copyrights – the song, the music, the arrangement and the performance. In addition, there is a copyright in the actual sound recording, which is quite separate.
Q7. Is it permitted to show films and DVDs in libraries?
It is permitted only if they are viewed by one person at a time through dedicated terminals where others cannot watch at the same time. Showing them to groups, even for educational or children’s use, requires a licence either from the Motion Picture Licensing Corporation (MPLC) or Filmbank.
Q8. Who is the author of a database?
A. Apart from the fairly rare occasion when a database has a personal author, the author is defined as the maker of the database. The maker of a database is the person who takes the initiative in obtaining, verifying or presenting the contents of the database and assumes the risk of investing in those actions and therefore obtains the database right.
Makers cannot qualify for this right unless they are individuals with EEA nationality, or companies/organizations incorporated within the EEA, or partnerships or unincorporated bodies formed under the law of an EEA state.
Q9. Is all material on the web copyright?
A. Probably. To be safe, behave with material on the web as if it were in paper form. If you would not copy or distribute it in paper form, then do not do so in electronic form, unless the owner specifically states this can be done, which many website owners do.
Q10. Who owns the copyright in a work bequeathed to a library or archive?
A. There is a special additional exception for unpublished works. When an author leaves unpublished manuscripts or other materials of which they are the author to a library, archive or museum as a bequest, and their will does not specify any other arrangements, the presumption is that the copyright is also transferred to the library, archive or museum.
They may specify differently in the will; if they do, this will affect the way the unpublished material can be used. If the work is deposited by the author during their lifetime or deposited by the family but copyright is not assigned to the library or archive, then copyright remains with the author or their heirs and successors.