Week 2 (3/25 - 3/29) - Copyright Owners & Their Rights

Week 2

Goals: This week, you will learn the answers to the following questions:

  • Who is a copyright owner?
  • What rights does a copyright owner have?
  • How can the owner enforce those rights?


When we say that a person owns a “copyright” in a work, we mean that a person has the right to do (or authorize other people to do) certain specific things with that work. These specific rights are known as “exclusive rights” and they are set forth in 17 U.S.C. § 106.

If a person other than the copyright owner engages in any of these activities, without either having permission of the copyright holder or falling under one of the exceptions and limitations (that will be introduced next week), that person has infringed the copyright. Copyright owners can, in a court of law, obtain a number of different remedies for the infringement of their rights.

In some cases, a company, school, or other organization may be held liable for any infringing activities of its employees, users, or students--this is the doctrine known as "secondary liability" or "indirect liability" for copyright infringement.

A work is automatically copyrighted as soon as that work is fixed in a tangible medium of expression. If you write a novel, paint a painting, or compose a song, you will have a copyright in your creation as soon as it is put down on paper, on the canvas, or in an electronic form.

The author does not have to register a copyright in the work or put a copyright notice on the work in order for the work to be protected by copyright, although there are some benefits to be had from registration and notice. (See the "Copyright Basics", Circular 1, from the Copyright Office, pages 7-10, for more information.)

The situation regarding initial ownership is more complicated if you are an employee creating the work as part of your employment, if you were hired to create a particular work, or if there are multiple authors working together on a single work.

Although copyright initially "vests" in an author, that author may transfer or sell some or all of his or her exclusive rights to other persons.

Remember, Case 1 Scenario is due Sunday March 31 (midnight)!

Reading Assignment:

Additional Reading and Resources (optional):

  • Copyright Share/Share Alike: A Panel Discussion featuring Lawrence Lessig, moderated by Jonah Peretti, with responses by Joline Blais; Carrie McLaren; and Jon Ippolito (Intelligent Agent/Eyebeam)
  • "Author's Rights", by Nancy Sims, University of Minnesota Libraries

Discussion Questions:

These are questions provided for your understanding, to be discussed with your group and with the course facilitators in office hours. Answers to these questions do not have to be submitted and will not be part of your grade.

(1) If you wrote and published a short story, and then found someone selling it online, what could you do? What are your options if you have registered your copyright? What are your options if you have NOT registered your copyright?

(2) How would you go about registering for a copyright?


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