Copyright Basics


I. Frequently Asked Questions

What do copyright laws control?
Copyright laws control the reproduction, distribution, adaptation, and in some cases, the public display and performance of creative works.  These laws are the basis for protecting the ownership of creative works including music, art, and literary or scholarly work.  In other words, copyright law says that the owner of the copyright controls these uses of the work.

What is copyrighted in music?
Both the recording and the performance of a song is copyrighted.  The music and lyrics are also copyrighted.  Every sound recording has at least two copyright elements associated with it, and sometimes more.  The main two elements that are present in virtually every sound recording are: 1) the written lyrics and accompanying musical composition (the musical composition) and 2) a particular recorded performance of that musical composition (the sound recording).

Who owns the copyrights?
The sound recording copyright is generally owned by the record company that issued the recording.  The musical composition is usually owned by the artist (the artist that wrote the song), songwriter or music publisher.  If there are words or lyrics to a song the author of the words (or his or her publisher) may own a separate copyright.

How does the copyright law apply to the internet?
The laws remain the same.  Reproductions or distributions of sound recordings, which have not been authorized by the copyright owner, violate federal and possibly, state law.

II.  Cans and Cant's of copyright laws.

Is it OK as long as I don't make a profit or charge money?
NO!  The law applies no matter how the copyrighted material is distributed.  Even if you are neglagite that you are distributing it.

So what do copyright laws mean to you?
If you don't own the copyright, you can't reproduce the work or distribute it.  While there is an exception for personal copying on to cassette tapes and some digital media, that exception does not apply to the Internet.  This means that, as a general rule, you can't copy it, download it, upload it, save it to a hard drive, or put it on a computer disk or CD-R.  Marking a site "for promotional use only" or " for demonstrational purposes only" or urging listeners to buy the CD after they've listened to the files doesn't make it legal.

What about "fair use"?
Widely accepted guidelines for "fair use" suggest the following:

++  The reproduction and distribution of a complete sound recording is almost never a "fair use."

++  Quotation from books or music for purposes of a review are usually a "fair use" as long as the
       don't violate the spirit of the "fair use" policy suggested above.

++Whether a paticular use of music or other creative work for eduactional purposes is a "fair use"
     may depend on the context  --- what descriptions accompany the music or work of art and the
     context for its use.