Copyright Exclusive Rights
The Copyright Act grants exclusive rights to copyright owners that, together, comprise the bundle of rights known as copyright. Specifically, the law grants copyright owners the following copyright exclusive rights, subject to certain limitations and exceptions:
1. Right to control the reproduction of the work
The reproduction right grants the copyright owner the ability to control the making of a copy of the work. It is arguably the most important of the rights as it is implicated in most copyright infringement disputes. Some examples of activities that implicate the reproduction right include pasting a news article into an email, photocopying a magazine, uploading movies or music to a website, copying a computer program or a document onto a PC, scanning or digitizing printed text or images into a digital file, or right clicking on an online photograph or other image and copying it or saving it to a PC. If these types of activities (and the examples noted below) are not authorized by the copyright owner or otherwise allowed by the law, for instance under the fair use exception, they may infringe the copyright owner’s right(s).
2. Right to control the making of derivative works
The derivative work right grants the copyright owner the ability to control the modification or adaptation of their works into new works. Derivatives can include annotating, editing, translating, modifying or making other types of changes to the work. Some examples of activities that implicate this right include translating a book, transforming a novel or screenplay into a motion picture, creating a sequel of an existing book or movie, or creating an updated version of an existing computer program.
3. Right to control the distribution of the work
The distribution right grants the copyright owner the ability to control the manner in which a work or a copy of a work is transferred to others, whether by sale, rental, lease, or lending. This right allows the copyright holder to not only prevent the distribution of unauthorized copies of a work (i.e., copies that infringe the reproduction right), but also allows the copyright holder to control the unauthorized distribution of authorized copies (subject to a limitation commonly referred to as first sale exception). Some activities that implicate the distribution right include copying the content in a news article and sending it via email to colleagues, uploading a music file to a website, or “lending” digital files like software or sound recordings.
4. Right to control the public performance of the work
The public performance right applies only to the following works: literary works, musical works, dramatic works, choreographic works, pantomimes, motion pictures and other audiovisual works. Notably, this right does not apply to sound recordings (see exclusive right #6 below to learn more). The public performance right vests the copyright owner with the authority to control the manner in which a work is publicly performed. In general, a performance is considered “public” when the work is performed in a public place or at a place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and friends are gathered, or a performance of the work is transmitted to the public. Some activities that implicate the public performance right include showing a motion picture in a public area or streaming movies, sports events, concerts or music over the internet.
5. Right to control the public display of the work
The public display right is similar to the public performance right, except that this right applies to the display of a work as opposed to its performance. The display right only applies to the following types of works: literary works, musical works, dramatic works, choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphical, or sculptural works (including stills from motion pictures and other audiovisual works). In general, a display is considered “public” when the work is displayed in a public place or at a place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and friends are gathered, or a display of the work is transmitted to the public. However, this exclusive right would not prevent the owner of a lawfully owned copy from displaying that copy to people who are present where the copy is located. Some activities that implicate the public display right include using a photograph on a website or signage, or showing a mural as a prominent backdrop in a movie scene.
6. Right to perform a sound recording publicly by means of digital audio transmission
The public performance right (discussed in #4 above) does not apply to sound recordings. Instead copyright owners of sound recording get a much more limited performance right – the exclusive right to publicly perform the sound recording when the performance occurs by means of a digital audio transmission.
It’s important for copyright owners to stay informed about copyright. Join the alliance to learn more about your copyright exclusive rights and to stay up to date with copyright law—membership is free.
Last Updated: 06/2022