Copyright and Other Protections

Copyright is one type of intellectual property, that empowers creators to restrict others from using their creative works. There are a couple others to be aware of as well:

  1. Trademark law: protects the public from being confused about the source of goods and services. The holder of trademark is allowed to prevent uses of its trademark by others (ex: McDonald’s)
  2. Patent law: gives inventors a time-limited monopoly to their inventions, this like mouse traps to new mobile phone technology. Patents typically give inventors the exclusive rights to make, have made, use, have used, sell or import patentable inventions.


How to Receive Protection

Copyright is automatic the moment a work is created, though some countries require that the work is in a tangible medium before granting copyright. You can register your work at the local copyright office to receive certain benefits, but registration is not required to be protected.


Exceptions and Limitations of Copyright

There are occasions when copyright protections may be limited to serve the public interest. Copyright protection is balanced against other public interests.

  • Automatic protection and long terms (~70 years) has created a massive amount of “orphan works”, copyright works for which the copyright holder is unknown or impossible to locate.
  • Certain uses are explicitly carved out from copyright, examples include purposes of criticism, parody and access for the visually impaired.
  • The “Three-Step Test”: Reproduction of the work does not conflict with the normal exploitation of the work or the interests of the author. This was first established by the Berne Convention and adopted by some countries.
  • Fair use determined by 4-factor test (US Only): effect on the potential market, amount of the work used, nature of the work, and the purpose/character of the use. Fair use is determined by a federal court judge.



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An OER Workshop by Andrea Bearman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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