U.S. Copyright Act

Content owners and consumers benefit from a balance in copyright law (Title 17 U.S. Code). From an owner’s perspective, the law theoretically protects the rights of an individual who has spent time and, possibly, money creating a work. That is, the creator has a right to receive compensation and attribution for that work, as well as a level of control over its use. From a consumer’s perspective, the law may permit a work to be copied and enjoyed or expanded on, without the permission of the content, or copyright, owner. The decision to use a work without asking for permission is based on a subjective interpretation of the four factors comprising “fair use”, the doctrine on which users may rely as a defense against a content owner’s claim of copyright infringement.

As U.S. copyright law has evolved, several trends have emerged. In short, copyright duration for works owned by individuals has extended from 14 years, back in 1909, to the current time frame of the author’s lifetime plus 70 years. This extension has inhibited the rollover of works into the public domain. Disagreements over the legal status of “orphan” or unclaimed works also precludes free use of these works by the public.  Easier access to and distribution of content via the Internet has revolutionized learning, teaching, buying, and selling. Consequently, commodification of information made available electronically has resulted in greater pressure by copyright owners to control and be compensated for their content. These broad and dynamic changes undoubtedly affect how the law is interpreted by both the public and the courts. Without the balance offered by the fair use doctrine, the financial and logistical impact of copyright on society would be overwhelmingly burdensome.

Read the entire law here Title 17 or read specific sections of the law, as denoted by the file tabs “Fair Use”, “TEACH Act”. “Digital Millenium Copyright Act”, etc.