Copyright Primer: Exclusive Rights to Reproduce, Distribute, Perform or Display the Copyrighted Work

August 8th, 2012

If you are a copyright owner, you can claim ownership of the copyright in a work. A copyright grants the owner the exclusive right to do any of the following; to reproduce the work, to distribute the work, to perform the work, or to display the copyright protected work. A copyright also grants the owner exclusive rights to create a new work that is based upon the original copyrighted work.


Welcome to Copyright Law Radio. We bring you the best in copyright news, legal advice and information.  From copyright infringement claims and defenses to threat letter issues, DMCA takedown notice letters, copyright licensing, and legal analysis of the latest copyright law cases, we have a copyright attorney who can answer your copyright questions.

If you are a copyright owner, you can claim ownership of the copyright in a work. A copyright grants the owner the exclusive right to do any of the following; to reproduce the work, to distribute the work, to perform the work, or to display the copyright protected work. A copyright also grants the owner exclusive rights to create a new work that is based upon the original copyrighted work.

My name is Copyright Law Attorney, Enrico Schaefer, and today we’re going to be doing a little bit of a copyright primer to understand some of the basics concerning copyright. Clients who contact our firm are often confused about what is a copyright, what is a trademark, what is a patent, and how do these various intellectual property rights or IP rights compare to each other.

Today, we’re going to focus on copyright and what is a copyrighted work. So, you now know that there’s this concept of original work of authorship that gives you rights to do certain things with the copyright protected work. So let’s just say, for example, we’re talking about a song and the author of the song, the person who created the song, who wrote the lyrics, who put pen to paper, who put the notes down is the copyright owner. That copyright owner has the right to exclusively control how that song is reproduced. Meaning, can it be put on a CD, an mp3 format? How can that song actually be multiplied into lots of versions?

So the copyright owner of the song has the exclusive right to control reproduction of the work. The copyright owner also has the right to determine how that song, that copyright protected song is distributed. So, how is it going to be pushed out, for instance, into the public? Is it going to go through Walmart and Meijer Stores? Is it going to go through iTunes? Is it going to be put on CD? Is it going to be put on mp3? Is it going to be distributed as part of a movie?

There’s another right that a song copyright owner has, and that’s the exclusive right to perform the protected work. So if the copyright owner wishes to perform their song at a concert venue or in some other venue, they have the exclusive right to do that. They also have the right to stop someone else from performing the song without a license. The last control that a copyright owner has is the right, the exclusive right, to display the copyright protected work. Now that one doesn’t apply so much to a song, but if it is a painting or a photograph, then the copyright owner has the ability to control how the copyright protected work is displayed. Is it going to be put on a website? Is it going to be put on the wall? Is it going to be displayed in a museum?

So these are the types of the bundle of rights of a copyrighted work that belong to the copyright owner. And copyright law very clearly spells out these exclusive rights as belonging to the author of the original work that was created by the copyright owner.

I want to talk a little bit about a derivative work which is the owner’s exclusive right to create a new work based upon the copyrighted work. The new work is actually called the derivative work, and the copyright owner has these same rights of reproduction, distribution, performance and display in all derivative works. You can’t just take someone’s copyright protected work, make some changes and call it your own. Now because these exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, perform or display belong only to the copyright owner or to the licensee of that copyright owner, that copyright protected work is protected under copyright law by allowing the copyright owner to potentially file a copyright infringement lawsuit for someone who’s infringing the copyright.

Typically before a lawsuit, but now always, the copyright owner, through their copyright attorney, will send an infringement threat letter claiming violation of the copyright. If someone has infringed the copyright, then they are potentially liable for damages. And if the copyright protected work is registered with the United States Copyright Office under the Copyright Act, then they will get some special privileges and special rights.

One general principle that you should be aware of, and that any copyright attorney will want to share with you is that unless you have registered your copyright work with the Copyright Office, you may have limited rights to bring a federal lawsuit claiming copyright infringement by a defendant.

So, copyright can be obtained in any original literary works, musical works, dramatic works, any accompanying music, pantomimes, choreographic works, pictorial works, graphics works, and sculptural works, motion pictures and other audio visual works are all potentially protected. Sound recordings are potentially protected by copyright. Architectural works, as long as the works are fixed in a tangible medium can be protected by copyright. So let’s talk a little bit about that.

In order for a copyright protected work to achieve a level of protection, it must be fixed in some form so that it can be perceived directly or indirectly by others. Now where the ownership of a copyright is undisputed, you get to move forward on the issue of infringement. Many times, however, the ownership of the copyright is one of the items, especially in copyright litigation, where someone has filed a copyright lawsuit against the defendant. The first thing the defendant is going to do is do some discovery concerning the copyright ownership to make sure that the person who is claiming to be the plaintiff can, in fact, push forward and have exclusive rights under copyright law.

My name is Copyright Law Attorney, Enrico Schaefer, and we’ll see you next time.

You’ve been listening to Copyright Law Radio, where copyright infringement, licensing, litigation, and news are always the topic of the day.  Whether you are a copyright attorney or a client, we are the number one resource for all your copyright questions.

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