Module 1 Copyright Basics & Requesting Information

Purpose of Copyright Law

The primary purpose of copyright law is not so much to protect the economic interests of the authors and artists, but rather to promote the progress of the useful arts—that is knowledge and creative works—by providing an incentive for the creation through giving the creative community exclusive rights in their works for a limited period. A key element of the incentive is giving the owner of a copyrighted work a bundle of exclusive rights that can be exercised throughout the term of the copyright. But the grant of exclusive rights is not a monopoly. Congress historically has balanced the exclusive rights of copyright owners and the ability of the public to use copyrighted works to implement an overriding public interest, such as encouraging new creative and intellectual works and using copyrighted works for nonprofit, educational purposes. You will learn more about the Copyright Act’s limitations on owner’s exclusive rights in the next modules.

In addition to balancing public and individual rights, you need a basic understanding of copyright law before you can make appropriate decisions regarding any proposed use of copyrighted material. When thinking about the possible use of copyrighted material, keep in mind the perspectives of both the owner and the user of copyrighted material. When using another person’s material, ask yourself: “What kind of respect and observance of copyright law would I want others to follow?” Likewise, “If I am about to use someone else’s copyrighted works, what kind of respect and observance of copyright laws should I follow?” This approach suggests attention to the principles of respect and trust. Respect for the rights of others and trust in those who have an opportunity to use your works.

Be aware that mere ownership of a book, DVD, music CD, games, manuscript, painting, or any other copy of a copyrighted work does not automatically grant you ownership of the underlying copyright.

In summary, some important points to remember:

  • The authority to establish Copyright Law comes from Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution.
  • One major purpose of Copyright Law is to “promote the progress of the science and useful arts”, in other words knowledge.
  • Copyright law is an attempt to balance public interest with the rights of the individual author/creator.