Copyright Basics    

Copyright law is covered in Title 17 of the U.S. Code and can be found at the Library of Congress site. While many of the basic tenants of copyright law have been in existence since 1790, it is an area that continues to evolve. Several technology related areas continue to influence Congress in updating cpyright protection to keep pace with technologies such as streaming, broadband, and digital broadcasts.

The concept of a copyright is really quite simple. Think of anything you own - a pencil, hairbrush, printer, coffee maker, etc. Once that product is paid for - you own it. In general, purchasing the item does not bestow upon you the legal right to reproduce and resell the item. To do so requires the permission of the owner of the product (in this example, often the manufacturer of the product). You simply own the purchased product for your own use and enjoyment. A copyright for a musical work is no different. Once you purchase a CD - you own the physical medium, but you do not have right to use the music in any manner that you desire outside of personal use.

Basic Rights
Title 17, Section 106 of the U.S. Code on Copyrights provides copyright owners with the following exclusive rights to do and authorize the following:

  • Reproduce the copyrighted work in copies or phonorecords;

  • Prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work;

  • Distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending;

  • In the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works, to perform the copyrighted work publicly;

  • In the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, to display the copyrighted work publicly;

  • In the case of sound recordings, to perform the copyrighted work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.

It is illegal for anyone to violate any of the rights afforded to the copyright holder. A violation of these rights is copyright infringement. Infringement is covered under Title 17, Sections 501 - 512 of the U.S. Code.

Remedies for infringement include:

  • Any court having jurisdiction of a civil action arising under copyright law may grant temporary and final injunctions as it may deem reasonable to prevent or restrain infringement of a copyright.

  • Any injunction may be served anywhere in the United States on the person enjoined;

  • Copyright owner is entitled to seek actual damages and any additional profits by the infringer that are attributable to the infringement.

  • The copyright owner may elect, at any time before final judgment is rendered, to recover, instead of actual damages and profits, an award of statutory damages for all infringements involved in the action, with respect to any one work, for which any one infringer is liable individually, or for which any two or more infringers are liable jointly and severally, in a sum of not less than $500 or more than $20,000 as the court considers just.

  • In a case where the copyright owner sustains the burden of proving, and the court finds, that infringement was committed willfully, the court in its discretion may increase the award of statutory damages to a sum of not more than $100,000.

  • In addition to fines, sentences may also include prison time.

Keep in mind that it is legal to use copyrighted works as long as the proper permission is received and royalties paid. So how does one going about obtaining the right to use music legally? See the section "Obtaining Music Rights" for a general approach.

If you need assistance in researching copyrights for music, TVEffects can help. See our services page for more information.

(Legal disclaimer: The information presented on this page is based on information freely available on the Internet and should not be considered a substitute for legal advice.)