Thanks to Thomas MacEntee and his GeneaBloggers Radio we had a interesting discussion about copyright law on Friday evening, 4 November 2011. I thought it would be a good idea to follow up with some points that need to be emphasized.
Since 1988 and the U.S. adoption of the Berne Convention, there is no requirement to have a copyright symbol or other notice of claim of copyright. Copyright protection is automatic for any work falling under the statutory description. If your daughter draws a picture at school brings it home and you put it on the refrigerator, it is covered by the U.S. copyright law. If you write a story on the back of an envelope, it is covered by U.S. copyright law. See Copyright Basics, U.S. Copyright Office.
Putting information on the Internet is no exception. Even if the blog or website has no copyright notice, the original contents of the work are protected by copyright law. The Fair Use exception is not defined in the U.S. copyright statutes and is a doctrine of the court cases. In other words, if you get into a dispute over what is and what is not fair use, your recourse is to the Federal Courts to resolve the issue. Copying substantially all or all of a protected work is always a copyright violation. The safe practice is to ask permission before making a copy of someone's work. See Copyright Basics, U.S. Copyright Office.
Works not covered by copyright are said to be in the public domain. But this concept is commonly misunderstood. Under the present law, works pass into the public domain either because they are so old that any possible protection has expired, or that the work was done during a time when a copyright notice was required and the notice was not properly affixed in some way to the work, or the creator of the work intentionally put the work into the public domain. U.S. Government, not state government, works are often considered part of the public domain because they are exempted from copyright protection. But not all government works are exempted. As I mentioned, state governments can copyright their works. In addition, works done for hire, i.e. under contract for the Federal Government, may also be subject to a copyright claim by the creator depending on the contractual arrangement with the U.S. Government.
There are a lot of other issues out there we did not discuss on the radio show. I invite those who have questions to put their questions in the comments to this post and any other post and I will attempt to answer the questions.
Although, I am
a licensed attorney practicing in the State of Arizona, what I have written
should not be construed to be legal advice about any particular claim or
controversy. You are encouraged to seek competent legal advice if you are the
victim of a copyright infringement.