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Business | All about copyright

Copyright is a set of essential laws that protect the creative output of artists, writers, musicians and others. Here’s a quick overview of this topic – especially important for a learning organisation.

What is copyright?
Copyright states that the author of a creative work has the right to profit from that work for a certain period of time, during which nobody else may copy, share, modify or sell the work without permission. In other words, if I take a photo, only I may sell it to a magazine for publication; you may not sell my photo, or add your name to it, or put it online and share it with your friends.

Copyright works very similarly to ownership of real property – you can own the rights to an original song, novel or painting just like you can own a mug, car or TV.

Who owns what?
If you put an idea into set form (i.e. record a song, film a movie, write a story), that “intellectual property” belongs to you.

You can also sell or automatically assign your copyright to someone else. For example, an author can sell the copyright on her novel to a publisher, who then profits from the sales. If you work for a content producing company, the creative work you produce for your job often automatically becomes the property of the company (because they are paying you for your time).

However, regardless of who owns the copyright or whether it has expired, the creator always had the right to be identified as the author of the work.

Copyright permissions
If you own intellectual property, you can give others permission to use it (usually for a set fee). For example, many of our courses are extracted from textbooks – we ask the publisher or author’s permission, pay a set fee, and acknowledge them as the copyright holders. As long as we do that, we can then take their content, copy it, and sell it as a GetSmarter course.

If we didn’t get this permission, we would be stealing and profiting from their intellectual property, which is a crime under our law.

Fair use
You don’t need to ask (and pay for) copyright permissions if you want to use the material in a fair use capacity. Fair use generally means that you use a very small portion of the work for non-commercial, educational, critical or private use and you reference the source.

So, you can quote a few sentences from a novel in a book review, or use a short video clip from a movie in a university media studies lecture. But you can’t play an entire music album at a party with an entrance fee, or copy-paste a full article into a commercial magazine – at least, not without permission.

This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution license.

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