What is Copyright?

Photo Credit: http://www.orj.co.uk/copyright-protection/

Did you know that the essay you wrote or the play staged in school could all have copyright?! Let’s find out why this matters.

What is Copyright? “Copyright” is a legal term for the exclusive right of someone to control how their creative work is used by another. Musical notes, poems, statues, drawings, books, advertisements, video games, all have copyright. These creations need not be complex, but they must be original. In India, copyright is created as soon as the work is created and shown to someone. The rules of copyright in India are written in a law called The Copyright Act, 1957.

Copyright ownership – Usually, copyright belongs to the creator of the original work. Where a person is paid to create a work, the person paying for the creation is the owner. In other instances, a school or college may own the copyright in works created by its students. The person or organization that owns the copyright controls how it is used and should get an acknowledgement (called “credit”) for the work. Often (and this is usually the case in business) the copyright owner charges a license fee called “royalty” to allow another to use its creation.

Can the owner control the work forever? In India, generally the copyright is for 60 years from the year it was created or for 60 years from the year the creator dies. This time period varies from country to country and depending on the nature of the creation. After that, anyone can use it without permission from the owner (or the owner’s heirs). This is why we can use the works of say Beethoven or Michelangelo without their permission.

How do I protect what I create? The simplest way is to put your name on the work and date it. You can also use the sign with the year of creation so people know the work is protected by copyright law. Some creators use complicated technology so their work cannot be copied.

What happens if you don’t take permission? The thumb rule is to check who the owner of the copyright is and get permission to use or enjoy the creation in a particular way. When you buy music, you have paid to get permission to hear the music. But you do not have permission to copy it. This is even if it is work freely available on the internet like a song or article. For example, even to play music at a restaurant, the restaurant owner needs to get permission from the owner of the music. If the owner has is not given permission or not been credited, it is called infringement. When writing is infringed it is called plagiarism. This is against the law! There are ofcourse some specific exceptions to infringement – so generally if you play music at a party at home, or use a work for research or education, it is an exception to infringement. It is in any event good to always credit the original author and to make sure that large chunks of original work are not just replicated.



Look around you and think up the different creations you use every day and try and figure who the copyright owner might be. What are the works you have created today? Don’t’ forget to include your name and let the world know you are a creator!        

Written by: Purnima Thacker, a keen art admirer, nature enthusiast, intellectual property lawyer and mum to a curious 8 year old.

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