Wait, what is copyright again?

Simply put, copyright is the right to use and reproduce your work. 

  • Sell, distribute, commercially exploit the work
  • Reproduce the work on any media, in any way
  • Create derivative works (prequels, sequels, translations…)
  • Perform the work publicly (giving a concert, a play)

It also forbids anyone else to do these things unless you sold them the rights to your intellectual property.

Obviously, each country has its own laws, but most of these guidelines, even though they are US legal principles are similar in other countries. And if your work is somewhere on the web, you should comply with US regulations anyway because of the Berne Convention.

1.Your work conditions do not matter

Not true. Your status and work conditions change who owns the intellectual property rights of a creation.

  • If you are working for yourself, your work is and always be your own. That is, unless you give away your rights to someone else.
  • If you are employed by a company, the things you create (text, music, images) belong to that company.
  • If you are a freelance, you own the material even if the client has the right to use it- unless you sold part or all your rights to your client.

2. Fifty Shades of Grey violates copyright

Does it, though ? It is obvious that Fifty Shades should not be legal. I mean, did you read the book? If not, don’t lose your time, it’s bad – really bad. And the movies are worse. But you also probably know that it started as a fanfiction for the popular and equally bad series Twilight – that’s right, derivative work, which is illegal.

Problem solved then?

Not really.

In the Fifty Shades case, the author started a series on Wattpad that had direct references to the Twilight universe. Fanfiction, even if not exactly legal, is tolerated and considered fair use as long as it does not make profit. When the book was actually rewritten for publishing, all distinctive references to the Twilight saga were removed and the character names were changed.

Elements of the story are similar, but they are not original enough to fall under any intellectual property laws.

You can’t copyright a generic idea – you can only copyright the result.

3. Everyone can take a picture of the Eiffel Tower by night

What is less original than a photo of the Eiffel Tower?  A picture of the Eiffel Tower by night.

Even if it sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, it is relevant to intellectual property laws. We saw that originality can be a criterion, but sometimes, there are some added complexities to that. The lighting system of the Eiffel Tower has been protected in France in 1985 for 70 years. Theoretically, any publication of the Eiffel Tower by night should thus be authorized by the Société d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel – even if they never went to court for it (yet).

4. If it’s free, it’s not copyright violation.

Wrong. Copyright has nothing to do with the price of the original work or the price of the copy. Some creators tolerate it, but it is still illegal – unless a specific type license is used. These licenses are called copyleft – the CreativeCommons is the best known, and they allow you to use someone else’s work – under some conditions.

5. If it does not have a copyright sign, anyone can use it

Here again, wrong. But if the work does have some copyright mention, it will be easier to prove that someone else using the work is infringing copyright. The © has no legal value per se, but it will remind users that the work is copyrighted, and it would be hard for someone to pretend they used your content in good faith.

6. You can’t protect a website

But you can protect its content. A website is usually made of text, images, and sometimes – and all these are elements that can be protected.

This also means that if you are building YOUR website, you have no right to use the texts, images or sounds created by someone else – except if the author specifically allowed you to use their work, or if the work is placed under a copyleft license.

A domain name, though, can’t be protected, the only solution is to buy all the possible domain names to avoid confusion… obviously, most people can’t afford it.

By the way, the name fiftyshadesofbadwriting.com is still available!

7. You don't have the right to be funny

True… and false. Parodies are allowed as long as they are funny. They fall under what is considered as fair use. The problem resides in the fact that “funny” is clearly subjective – another Grey area.

Copyright seems complicated … and it is.

These guidelines about copyright are exactly that- only guidelines. There are many nuances, and a debate can always occur about what is original or funny. Some surprising things can be protected – like the Eiffel tower illumination.

If you want to be sure to be protected, or are unsure if the work you found somewhere online is violating your rights, make sure to contact us – our legal team is here to help you.

Next week, we will take a look at The Pirate Bay and the huge success of this pirate site which has been operating on the networks for over 20 years.