Copyright is a legal concept, enacted by most governments, giving the creator of an original work exclusive rights to that work, typically for a limited time. In layman terms, it is simply "the right to copy" or make copies, but it also gives the copyright holder the right to be credited for the work, to determine who may adapt the work to other forms, who may perform/use the work, who may financially benefit from it, and other related rights. A copyright is a form of intellectual property, much like the patent or trademark, and is applicable to any expressible form of an idea or information that is substantive and discrete.

Who can claim a Copyright?

Copyright protection subsists from the time the work is created in fixed form. The copyright in the work of authorship immediately becomes the property of the author who created the work. Only the author or those deriving their rights through the author can rightfully claim copyright.

This means that as soon as an artist performs a piece of music as a public performance, the artist may claim copyright to the music. Making a sound recording of this performance without expressed written permission from the artist is a breach of the Copyright Law.

What is Copyright?

Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (title 17, U.S. Code) to the authors of "original works of authorship," including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works. This protection is available to both published and unpublished works. Section 106 of the 1976 Copyright Act generally gives the owner of copyright the exclusive right to do and to authorize others to do the following:
  • To reproduce the work in copies or phonorecords;
  • To prepare derivative works based upon the work;
  • To distribute copies or phonorecords of the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending;
  • To perform the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
  • To display the copyrighted work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work; and
  • In the case of sound recordings, to perform the work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.

It is illegal for anyone to violate any of the rights provided by the copyright law to the owner of copyright. These rights, however, are not unlimited in scope. Sections 107 through 121 of the 1976 Copyright Act establish limitations on these rights. In some cases, these limitations are specified exemptions from copyright liability. One major limitation is the doctrine of "fair use," which is given a statutory basis in section 107 of the 1976 Copyright Act. In other instances, the limitation takes the form of a "compulsory license" under which certain limited uses of copyrighted works are permitted upon payment of specified royalties and compliance with statutory conditions. For further information about the limitations of any of these rights, consult the copyright law or write to the Copyright Office.

One thing people misunderstand is that when they purchase a video or CD ... they are NOT buying the rights to reproduce the material in ANY form. When you purchase multimedia, you are only purchasing a license to use the copy that you get. It doesn't give you the right to make copies and distribute them because you do not have the "right to copy".

Mere ownership of a book, manuscript, painting, or any other copy or phonorecord does not give the possessor the copyright. The law provides that transfer of ownership of any material object that embodies a protected work does not of itself convey any rights in the copyright.

If you record (video or audio) ANY performance other than your own works, you are breaking copyright law ... unless you have the expressed WRITTEN permission of the performer, artist or group. Their performance is copyrighted! PERIOD. News sources are allowed to capture and record via audio/video, for reporting purposes, but even then the segments are supposed to be 30-seconds or less.

There is a standard for published works when used for educational purposes. For instance, music institutions may receive written permission to make copies of manuscript or published works for distribution to students for educational use or performance. Once the materials are no longer needed, for instance, a public performance of a particular work, the copied materials are to be destroyed. This is assuming that the institution already owns a master or original version of the copyrighted material.

So, making copies and distributing them to friends, colleagues, etc., whether you receive compensation or not, is breaking the Copyright Law. You can justify it in your mind all you want, but the law is the law. You make your decision ... to have integrity ... or not.

For more information on US Copyright Law, please visit: