What copyright actually means and how it works

Every so often I see labels attached to YouTube videos to the effect of ‘no infringement intended, copyrights remain with the original owner’, or similar, as if this gets around the fact that the poster has obviously put something up they haven’t licensed.

Wright_Typewriter01Infringement has nothing to do with trying to take possession of another person’s copyright – infringement is the act of copying without license from the copyright holder.

That’s what ‘copyright’ is. It’s a protection for the owners of intellectual property against people using their material without permission. Most nations have their own minor variations on copyright law, typically involving duration of copyright after creator death, but the basic thrust is the same world-wide – and there are international treaties to protect those rights across borders.

So by reposting stuff on line without first obtaining licence, whoever’s done it has committed an infringement – and their assertion that copyright remains with the owner is actually stating that the owner has that copyright and thus every right to prosecute.

I don’t know where the idea that ‘ownership of the copyright’ was the point at issue, rather than ‘act of copying after failing to license the intellectual property’. I guess it’s up there with the other idea – which I’ve also seen – that it’s somehow OK to pirate stuff as long as it’s deleted within a certain time-period. Kind of like the ‘five second rule’ for dropped food.

Again, the issue isn’t the duration of possession, but the act of copying it without license from the copyright owner.

Just to complicate things, copyright is in fact transferrable – it’s a saleable right, and that’s how (for example), Michael Jackson ended up owning the rights to the Beatles catalogue. Whoever owns that right has the power to license use of the intellectual property – and to take out infringement proceedings. And the licenses are also transferable, too, as property.

All that said, I can say on my own experience – as a copyright owner – that it’s sometimes remarkably difficult for me to do anything when my intellectual property is infringed. I had another object lesson in how hard it actually is to enforce my rights, just a few weeks ago. More on that soon.

Have you ever had your intellectual property infringed?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015


2 thoughts on “What copyright actually means and how it works

  1. Hi Matthew – yes, much to my surprise. I do not remember what I was looking for now, but I saw a comment, “I want to download Hold the Faith by Susan M B Preston”. Someone provided a link to a library of ‘pirated’ books where the user could go. I was amazed. Whoever it was new not only the name of the book, but my name on the cover… and they would pay an illegal library but not the meager $4.99 for the eBook. 🙂
    I was so stunned, I wrote a blog post. (Yes, I tried to contact the site… don’t think it is there any more.)

    1. That’s a terrible experience! I’be heard of these pirate sites but never seen one. I have heard it argued that they serve to promote work in this age when the main hurdle is discovery. But while that may be true for the lucky few writers whose legitimate books sell in the hundreds of thousands, I think in truth these pirates merely rob ordinary hard-working authors of their fair income.

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