Copyright ensures people get credit for their ingenuity and compensation for their work. Authors can get recognition and decide how they want their work to be distributed. These exclusive rights encourage creativity. Let’s look at what copyright is and isn’t along with the criteria required for discovery to get this license.

What is a Copyright

A copyright is the sole legal permission given to an innovator to distribute, publish, print, or record literary, artistic, or musical content and other intellectual property.

A copyright owner has the exclusive right to control how or when their content is used.

Once copyright has been assigned to an individual or organization, they can stop others from duplicating or distributing their work without their permission.

Copyright does not protect intangible things like an idea, technique, procedure, etc. It has to be tangible, like a script, work of art, or storyboard. Copyright is not automatic in most cases, even when there is a property right. Inventors, authors, and artists do not possess copyrights until they are applied for and legally assigned.

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It is important to note that copyright is location specific and cannot be extended beyond certain areas. Copyright also varies depending on the country; some countries offer copyright protection (Australia) once content has been published; hence there is no further need for copyright registration. On the other hand, countries like the US insist on an application with specific criteria before copyright protection is assigned.

Copyright protection has a time frame, usually the length of the author’s life, in addition to 50 or 70 years after. At the expiration of this period, the work can now be in the public domain.

Once copyright has been assigned, it gives the holder exclusive right to the following:

  • Make multiple copies of the work or content protected
  • Produce duplicate derivative of the original content
  • Lease, rent or distribute for-profit copies of the work
  • The right to broadcast the work via media channels 
  • The right to conduct a live performance of the work, especially for plays, drama, musical productions, and choreography
  • The right to public displays of the work for entertainment, education, or profit

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Types of Copyrights

Two types of rights exist under the copyright, and they are as follows;

1. Economic Rights

This provides the owner of intellectual property the right to get financial remuneration from the use of their work by others. Under the economy copyright, authors can approve or prevent the use of their work. Economic copyright empowers an originator to approve or prohibit the use of adaptations of their work in the following ways;

  • The reproduction of their work in print or sound recording
  • Translation into variants of another language
  • Its adaptation from a novel to a screenplay and vice versa
  • Broadcast by various forms of media

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2. Moral Rights

This protects other interests of the author, not related to finances. Moral right is widely recognized and includes the right to disallow changes to an author’s work that could harm their reputation.

How Copyrights Work

As soon as an author can express an idea through a tangible medium, a copyright can be applied to the work. The author, in this case, owns the work. However, ownership can be given to others. Copyright owners also have the right to distribute their work and display it publicly.

These exclusive rights are valid during the author’s life up to 70 years later.

On the other hand, copyright transferred to others by the author is valid for a fixed period of 25years from the date the work was created.

Rules Surrounding Copyright Eligibility

Three primary rules inform eligibility for copyright protection.

  • The work must be original and have elements of creativity
  • It  must have been unique and crafted by the author, with no hinge of plagiarism
  • It must be expressed in a tangible format.

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If these conditions are not satisfied, the work would not be eligible for copyright protection. For example, if an author compiles plagiarised work uniquely and creatively, it would not be approved for copyright protection, as the compilation are essentially works of other people,

Below is a list of the various kinds of work eligible for copyright.

  1. Literary works(fiction and audiobooks, non-fiction, poems, essays, reference books)
  2. Musical Content(Songs, sounds, musical compositions)
  3. Drama Works( Scripts,plays,movies,sitcoms)
  4. Performing Arts(Choreography, dancing)
  5. Visual Arts(Artistic creations)
  6. Sound recordings, motion pictures (audiobooks, soundtracks)
  7. Computer software
  8. Architectural designs(Building design.blueprint,architectural drawings)

Explore: Property Release Form Template

Copyright vs Trademarks and Patents

Authors, founders, or inventors at some point own a patent, trademark, or copyright. Essentially the essence of all 3 of them is to protect the economic and non-economic interests of the founder. But the process for obtaining these intellectual property protections can be long and complicated. Before you start the process, it is essential to understand the differences between a trademark, copyright, and patent.

  • Copyright

A copyright protects the original creative works of authors, as long as they are expressed in a physical or digital format. A copyright provides the exclusive right to the owner to use in whichever way desired. While copyright can be automatic in some climes, an application for registration is required for documentation and public record.

  • Trademark

A trademark protects a brand’s identity, from the logo to the design, word, and symbols to brand colors synonymous with the brand. This protection prevents any other business from using or displaying any of the brand elements protected by a trademark. Trademarks exist on 2 levels, state and federal.

  • Patent

A patent is a government-issued license to an inventor to exclude anyone else from using or selling the invention without permission from the inventor. The patent is given to the inventor as a legal certificate that recognizes the inventor as the exclusive recipient of their invention and all the benefits that accrue from it.

Read: 9 Authorization Form Template + [Types & Letter Samples]

Patent rights are a form of reward to encourage the development of varying innovations across multiple niches. There are 3 kinds of patents, and they are;

I. Utility: Utility patents are given to people who innovate or invent a new and creative approach to solving problems. This kind of patent covers processes, machine inventions, and discoveries. Utility patent also covers improvements to other existing devices or processes, like a machine – for instance, computers, refrigerators, air conditioners, etc.

ii. Design: Design patents are conferred on any person who makes a new design suitable enough to be manufactured. It covers only a product’s aesthetic, so its focus is appearance. The object and design must align to be eligible for a design patent.

iii. Plant Patent: This refers to new unique plants previously undiscovered. There are conditions for eligibility before a plant patent can be granted. Plant patents focus mainly on distinct horticulture.

What is Copyright Infringement?

Copyright infringement, sometimes called piracy, is the use, production, and distribution of copyrighted material without prior permission from the copyright holder. Some actions which indicate that the right of exclusivity given to the copyright holder has been breached are ;

  • Downloading movies, music, and files from websites known for piracy
  • Using photos without credit  or permission from the photographer
  • Photocopying books without permission
  • Forwarding emails without the sender’s permission
  • Sharing copyright content via a private or public network
  • Piracy(Duplicating people’s work and distributing it for profit)

Conditions Required for Copyright Infringement

For a copy, infringement claims to be recognized. The originator must have registered the work, material, or intellectual property in question under copyright law. In this case, a copyright infringement is said to have occurred when others make copies, distribute, and engage in the public display of these works without prior permission from the owner.

Tips to Avoid Copyright Infringement

Here are a few tips to avoid copyright infringement.

1. Avoid costly assumptions: As a rule, it is important not to assume that the availability of content online makes it free of copyright. Play it safe by always assuming that every work is copyrighted.

2. Avoid copying and sharing without permission: Always seek the author of any content you want to use and obtain prior permission in writing. This can be displayed as permission to distribute the copyrighted material. 

3. Seek legal counsel: When in doubt, ask a lawyer; it would help guide your choices on using other people’s content. Legal counsel would also help review licensing agreements for online content to ensure no infringement occurs.

4. Use your work: The best way to avoid copyright infringement is to use your work. Find creative, unique ways of achieving your goals, using primarily your content.

Criteria & Conditions for Copyright Exceptions 

1. Fair Use

Fair use is an act in the US  that authorizes some exceptions on copyrighted material. Fair use allows the use of copyrighted material without permission from the copyright owner under certain circumstances and for a limited period. Fair use in this instance includes quoting parts of copyrighted material, commentary, criticism, and parody(imitation of copyrighted material in a humorous way). Four significant factors substantiate fair use;

  • The aim and essence of the use: is the purpose to enlighten, has specific contents been added to enrich or amplify the original work.
  • The category of work: Is the derivation from a published or unpublished work? Is the work already copyright protected,
  • The portion size used: Was the portion used huge or insignificant? The quality of the portion gleaned from the copyrighted material also matters.
  • The impact of the use in the commercial space: Would this use affect the copyright owner’s economic benefits?

2. Personal Use

Exceptions also apply to personal use when the user has purchased an original copy of the material. Also, for people with disabilities, photocopies can be made or the material transcribed to braille or read out to such people.

3. Educational Purpose

Schools, libraries, and educational facilities are allowed to make copies of the deteriorating original material. The second exception is for people with special needs who require the material to be transcribed into suitable forms, like braille: audiobooks, and sign language.

4. Attribution

Attribution means giving credit to the source of the work being used. Attribution exempts people from getting copyright permission. An example of attribution is in projects and thesis, where credit is given to the copyright holder through referencing.

5. Copyleft

Copyleft is the license that permits the right to distribute and alter an intellectual property on the basis that the same right of free distribution is granted to work derived from the original content. It is a widespread phenomenon in software, scientific discoveries, and artistic work. It is used to maintain copyright conditions in these niches.

In copyleft, credence is also given to the author of the work. The term copyright was coined by Richard Stallman and the free software foundation. Copyleft emphasizes users’ rights and convenience over the economic interest of software creators.

6. Creative Commons

Creative common is a free license creator opt to use when they want the public to have access to their work to use their work under certain conditions.

The conditions under which anyone can use their work for free is clearly stated in a CC license; the CC license expressly provides freedom for their work to be used for educational purpose, so students and teachers can use, share, and make copies without any further permission from the author. The only time permission is required is when the user seeks to use a work outside the boundaries stipulated in the common creative license.

Differences between Copyright Release, Transfer, and Licensing

  • Copyright Release

A copyright release is a legal form that allows a copyright owner to release copyrighted work to an individual or an organization; this release permits the release holder to make copies and distribute the work for a stipulated time frame. However, a release specifies what can be done with the work, is tied to only one work, and does not cover all an author’s works.

A copy release form still acknowledges the name of the author. Here is a sample of a copy release form template, which can be altered to include the names of the people or organizations involved and the description of the protected work."copyright-release-form"

  • Copy Ownership

Copyright ownership is established once an idea is expressed in a tangible form; however, by issuing a copyright release form, an originator can forfeit the copyright on their work. For instance, a movie producer who uses a cast to make their movie would ensure that the crew member, such as the photographer, forfeit a right over the work, as well as those whose pictures were taken,

  • Copyright Transfer

A copy transfer is a signed agreement transferring the copyright for a work from the copyright holder to an individual. The route is used mainly by publishers, book authors, and movie producers, who need the services of other creators to validate their work. While a copyright can be transferred to others in whole or part to others, it must be documented and signed to be considered valid; This editable Formplus copyright transfer template can help facilitate the process seamlessly.

  • Copyright Licensing

Copyright licensing is when a copyright owner allows others to access their content for various reasons. This is done by creating a license to use for the recipient. An example of a copyright license process can be seen when an artiste cedes all the copyrights of their recording to the producing company instead of financial gain, recognition, and royalties.

This copyright license authorizes the use of a copyrighted work. However, the license may be exclusive or non-exclusive and is bound by the specification stated in the license by the copyright owner. In ideal cases, to use a copyrighted work, an application for a copyright license must be made to the owner.

What are Copyright Alternatives?

Copyright alternatives are legal tools that allow an author or creator to give everyone who has access to their work to use, distribute and make derivatives as long as the source of the work is acknowledged. In copyright alternatives, the owner of the work may cede the right to make financial gains from their work, thereby authorizing the free use. Materials that employ the alternative copyright route are usually classified under the following;

  1. Open Educational Resource
  2. Electronic Resources
  3. Open Access License
  4. Library Licensed Resources
  5. Public Domain Works


Authors, creators, inventors, and founders deserve recognition for their work and the sole right to determine its use. Copyright protection offers this cover to authors in a bid to ensure that there is a structure that rewards and supports creativity. Copyright protection is one of the tools that promotes and amplifies an individual’s aspiration to create something new that would benefit the general public.

  • Angela Kayode-Sanni
  • on 12 min read


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