Copyright Background Information

Table of Contents for Background Information:

What is Copyright?
 Historical Development of Copyright in Europe before 1886
 The History of U.S. Copyright
 Present U.S. Copyright Law
 Educational Fair Use Guidelines <fairuse.html>
 UT System Fair Use Rules of Thumb
 Suggested Departmental Guidelines

What is copyright?

Copyright is basically the legal structure that protects the rights of an artist, and it protects works that owe their origin to the expressive efforts of a writer, composer, artist or other creative individual. The Copyright Law of the United States states that:

Section 102. Subject matter of copyright: In general

(a) Copyright protection subsists, in accordance with this title (Title 17), in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.

Works of authorship include the following categories:

(1) literary works;

(2) musical works, including any accompanying words;

(3) dramatic works, including any accompanying music;

(4) pantomimes and choreographic works;

(5) pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works; <Pict.html>

(6) motion pictures and other audiovisual works; <AV%20wks>

(7) sound recordings; and

(8) architectural works.

(b) In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.

U.S. Copyright Law further states that:

Section 103. Subject matter of copyright: Compilations and derivative <deriv.html> works

(a) The subject matter of copyright as specified by section 102 (above) includes compilations and derivative works, but protection for a work employing preexisting material in which copyright subsists does not extend to any part of the work in which such material has been used unlawfully.

(b) The copyright in a compilation or derivative work extends only to the material contributed by the author of such work, as distinguished from the preexisting material employed in the work, and does not imply any exclusive right in the preexisting material. The copyright in such work is independent of, and does not affect or enlarge the scope, duration, ownership, or subsistence of, any copyright protection in the preexisting material.

Historical Development of Copyright in Europe before 1886


A rudimentary form of copyright came into being in Europe in the late 15th century soon after the invention of the printing press. Subsequently, sovereign rights were granted in Venice to tradesmen for the exclusive privilege to publish certain books. This system of granting "privileges" became a monopoly and quickly spread to other countries. This monopoly benefited both tradesmen and state, and was also a method in which the state could control the dissemination of religious and political content. It became a common practice in the 16th and 17th centuries

This rudimentary form of copyright was mainly a profitable agreement between tradesmen and the head of state, with little or no benefit to the individual author and this agreement became a definite procedure.

Significant events in the evolution of English copyright legislation include the founding of the Stationers' Company, 1556; the abolishment of the Star Chamber, 1641; and, the passing of a new licensing act in 1643 that lasted until 1694. The Statute of Anne which changed the conceptual nature of copyright became perhaps the most important single event in copyright history. This statute limited protection to a maximum of 28 years, but it confused already existing commonlaw practices. The controversy produced two landmark cases, the first was the case of Millar v. Taylor in 1769, the second was Donaldson v. Becket in 1774. Millar v. Taylor held that authors had common-law rights in their creations and that they were were neither destroyed by publication, nor superseded by the Statute of Anne. Donaldson v. Becket upheld the Millar decision on the first two points, but overturned the third saying that the statute destroyed and replaced all common-law rights after publication, and that after expiration of statute protection the work enters the public domain.

Denmark adopted a short ordinance in 1741, and in 1793 France adopted legislation that was to serve as a model for copyright statutes in many civil law countries. Throughout the 19th century most independent nations developed copyright laws, most of which recognized the author as the fundamental beneficiary for limited periods of time. General trends were toward increasing the classes of works eligible for protection, the broadening of exclusive rights in these works, and providing a longer term of copyright.

The next momentous event was the development of the Berne Union which began in 1886. The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works was the first step in the attempt to develope a worldwide copyright treaty. There were originally 14 countries involved in the Berne Union and in the early 1980s the union consisted of 70 countries. Neither the United States nor Russia have ever been a member.

The History of U.S. Copyright