What is copyright?
Copyright is a type of intellectual property that gives its owner rights over use of the work that they have created. The kinds of works covered by copyright include:
- literary works such as novels, poems and plays
- computer programs
- paintings, photographs and other artistic works
- architecture and technical drawings
You can't copyright thoughts or ideas that only stay in your head - you can only copyright expressions of ideas in some material form - like the examples listed above.
Once you create a work, it is automatically copyrighted. You don't need to register for copyright protection; there is no system for registering copyright - it's granted upon creation of the work.
The rights granted to a copyright holder include the right to control:
- economic gain from the work
- sharing of the work
- copying of the work
- performance of the work
- adaptation of the work.
Copyright is protected by law and breach of copyright (the technical term is "infringement") can lead to a court appearance, as legislation provides for infringement to be a criminal offence. In addition, infringers can also be liable for civil damages.
In addition to the rights mentioned above, often described as "economic rights" copyrights grants:
- the right to be identified as the author of the work
- the right to object to distortion, mutilation or other modification of, or other derogatory action in relation to the work
- the right not to have a work falsely attributed to them as author
Moral rights were introduced in the 2000 Copyright Act has part of the harmonisation process with the EU
Why is Copyright important?
Copyright is a complex area, and its assertion can be, and is, abused. However, it is important and does offer benefits to authors and other creators:
- The protections of ownership. Anyone who wants to use your work must get your permission. If they use your work without your permission, then copyright law specifies monetary penalties for infringing upon your copyrighted work. The amounts vary but penalties can be substantial will be based on the court's assessment of financial damage to you, in terms of lost sales, legal fees, and so on.
- Universal coverage: thanks to international treaties, copyright extends beyond Ireland and includes most countries in the world
- Copyright encourages creativity. As anything you create is protected by copyright, you have an incentive to create because you can gain rewards by being recognised as the creator of a work.
Copyright in Ireland is subject to the EU directive 2001/29/EC – Harmonisation of certain aspects of copyright and related rights in the information society, the essential provisions of which were incorporated into Irish Law via the Copyright and Related Rights Act, 2000 and its amendments including the European Communities (Copyright and Related Rights) Regulations 2004. The 2000 Act has been superseded and modernised by the Copyright and Other Intellectual Property Law Provisions Act 2019 which also implements some changes recommended by a Copyright Review Committee established in 2011 by the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.
The duration of copyright depends upon the medium:
- Literary, artistic, musical and dramatic works: copyright expires 70 years after the death of the creator.
- "The typographical arrangement of a published edition": copyright expires 50 years after being made available to the public. A "published edition" for copyright purposed refers to a published edition of the whole or any part of a literary, dramatic or musical work. The "typographical arrangement" refers to the design, style, composition, layout and general format and appearance of the work, but not the content.
- Films: copyright expires 70 years after the death of the last of the following:
- dialogue writer
- Sound recordings: copyright on a sound recording expires either:
- 50 years after it was made or
- 50 years after it was made publicly available
- Broadcasts: copyright expires to fifty years after the broadcast was first transmitted
- Computer generated works (works generated by computer such there is no human author): Copyright expires 70 years after the work is first made available to the public
The copyright holder is usually the creator of the work, be it the author, songwriter, painter, director, photographer, sculptor etc, though there are exceptions:
- Where a work is created in the course of employment, the employer is normally the copyright holder (so do not write your great Irish novel at work!).
- Where an employer specifically employs the creator to undertake the work, the employer is the copyright holder
- Where a creator is sponsored by a third party to create a work, the sponsor is normally the copyright holder.
These exceptions may or may be explicitly stated in employment and other contracts and something that should be considered before signing a contract.
Copyright holders may transfer their copyright to a third party freely or for payment. The writers of scholarly articles and academic textbooks transfer the copyright of the article to a commercial publisher upon agreement to publish the work, or during some other part of the publication process. This normally prevents sharing or reuse of that work.
Copyright of a scholarly article is not particularly exciting, but what about ownership of The Beatles song catalogue? John Lennon and Paul McCartney founded a company to manage the rights to their songs. In 1969, some corporate wheeling and dealing saw them reluctantly sell their shares to ATV Music, a large music publishing company. In 1985, Michael Jackson bought ATV Music for $47.5 million dollars. After his death, the company was acquired by Sony, who were later successfully sued by Paul McCartney to regain control of the rights of his songs. Copyright is a valuable asset that is often fought over!