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Copyright Law Explained

Copyright Exclusive Rights

The Copyright Act grants copyright owners certain exclusive rights that, together, comprise the bundle of rights known as copyright. Specifically, the copyright law grants owners the following eight copyright exclusive rights:

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 to copy it or save it to a PC. If these types of activities (and the examples noted below) are not authorized 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 transformation of their works into new works. Transformations 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, 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 (i.e., infringing) copies of a work, 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 a news article and pasting it into an email that you send to colleagues, uploading a music file to a website, or renting of software or sound recordings.

4. Right to control the public performance of the work

The public performance right grants the copyright owner the ability to control the manner in which a work is publicly performed. A performance is considered “public” when the work is: (i) performed in a place open to the public, (ii) performed at a place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances are gathered, or (ii) is transmitted to multiple locations. Unlike the reproduction and distribution rights, the performance right only applies to following works: literary works, musical works, dramatic works, choreographic works, pantomimes, motion pictures, and audio visual works. 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. A display is considered “public” when the work is: (i) displayed in a place open to the public, (ii) displayed at a place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances are gathered, or (ii) is transmitted to multiple locations. The display right only applies to the following types of works: literary works, musical works, dramatic works, choreographic works, pantomimes, pictorial works, graphical works, sculptural works; and stills (i.e., individual images) from motion pictures and other audio-visual works. It also would not prevent the owner of a lawfully owned copy from displaying the copy to people who are present where the copy is located.

6. Right to perform a sound recording publicly by means of digital audio transmission

Most creators can ignore this right because, unlike the other rights listed above this right only applies to sound recordings. The public performance right (above) does not apply to sound recordings. Instead copyright owners of sound recording get a much more limited performance right – the right to publicly perform the sound recording only when the performance occurs by means of a digital audio transmission.

7. Right to control the rental of a computer program or sound recording

Although there exists a first sale exception that applies to the distribution right that generally allows rental of most purchased goods, that exception does apply to computer programs and sound recordings. The law provides that copyright owners of computer programs and sound recordings retain the right to control the rental, lease or lending of a copy when it is for the purpose of direct or indirect commercial advantage. This is commonly referred to as the rental right.

8. Right to control the importation of the work

The distribution right includes the right to control the importation of certain copies of a work into the United States, subject to several limitations, including – the right does not apply to: (1) copies legally made in or outside the United States; and (2) importation for the private use of the importer of one copy of a work at a time or of articles in the personal baggage of travelers entering the United States (this is commonly referred to as the “suitcase exception”).

Each of these exclusive rights for copyright owners are subject to certain limitations and exceptions that may significantly limit the application or enforceability of these rights.

It’s important for copyright owners to stay informed about their exclusive rights as the owner of a copyright. Join the alliance to stay up to date with all of your exclusive rights—it’s free.