Are You Infringing on the Rights of a Copyright Owner?

Categories: Education

What are the rights of a copyright holder?

Most people understand that a copyright owner has the exclusive right to make copies of his or her work for profit — you can’t photocopy someone’s copyrighted story and sell downloadable PDFs of it on your website, for example. But the copyright holder has other exclusive rights that you may not be familiar with. Below, I’ll discuss those individual rights one by one, providing examples of situations you may be surprised to learn involve copyright infringement.

Exclusive rights to reproduce the work

This means that only the copyright holder has the right to make a copy of his or her intellectual property. In other words, if you buy a CD and burn a copy for your friend, it’s illegal — whether you’re accepting money for it or not.

Exclusive rights to create derivative works

This means that a story, song, play, or any other type of intellectual property, based on another copyrighted work, would be considered copyright infringement. For example, if you write a song featuring Harry Potter and his adventures, you would be infringing on J.K. Rowling’s copyright. She has the exclusive right to create any work based on her Harry Potter series.

Exclusive rights to distribute the works to the public

This means just what it says, and only what it says. Whether or not money changes hands and whether or not the rightful author is credited as such, providing a PDF download of my ebook on your website without my permission is illegal.

Exclusive rights to display or perform the works publicly

It’s a little-known fact that performing copyrighted material in public constitutes copyright infringement. Do musicians play covers at live shows all the time? Yes. Are they likely to be sued for these covers? Probably not. Does that make it legal? Of course it doesn’t. “Everyone else is doing it” has never and will never be a legal defense to copyright infringement.

So what should you take away from this? 

  1. Attribution is not an alternative to permission

While it’s certainly noble of you to give the proper copyright owner credit when displaying their work without permission, that doesn’t excuse you from needing to obtain express permission. The fact is, the copyright owner has the legal right to have 100% control over where, when, and in what manner their intellectual property is distributed or displayed. If you take that control away from him or her in any way, you’re guilty of copyright infringement.

2. Infringement is still infringement, even if there’s no money involved

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that just because you’re not making money off of using someone else’s intellectual property, it isn’t illegal. Think of it from the copyright holder’s perspective — whether you burn a copy of my band’s new album for a friend for free or whether you charge him ten bucks for it doesn’t really matter; as far as I’m concerned, that’s one less person putting money in my pocket in exchange for the right to enjoy my art. Regardless of whether you’re making money, I’m inarguably losing sales either way.

Since 2000, Click Industries has been helping thousands of small business owners, independent entrepreneurs, writers, and musicians start new businesses, protect their intellectual property, and make their businesses grow.