One of the most misunderstood terms in the English language is “copyright”. The word “copy” in “copyright” is a noun (denoting the original object, created by an author) and not a verb (denoting making a duplicate). The French have a more explicit and less ambiguous term: “droits de l’auteur”, which can be translated as “author’s rights”.
Copyright is a legal right created by the law of a country that grants the creator of an original work exclusive rights for its use and distribution. It is important to note that copyright protects only the “original expression of ideas, and not the underlying ideas themselves”. An idea is an abstract entity. It is expressed in many ways : as words (prose, or poetry), as music (lyrics, or tune), as figures (map, sketch, diagram, drawing, painting, icon, sculpture, photographs, logos, monograms, emblems) , as computer programs, or in any other palpable form/medium). Such an expression (of an idea) is often called as “copy”.
The exclusive rights are not absolute but limited by restrictions and exceptions to copyright law, including fair use. These rights frequently include usage, reproduction, control over derivative works, distribution, public performance, and “moral rights” such as attribution. Typically, the duration of a copyright spans the author’s life plus 50 to 100 years (that is, copyright typically expires 50 to 100 years after the author dies, depending on the jurisdiction).
Another term closely related to “copyright” is a “license”. A “license” is a legal instrument used for sharing the copyrights of the author. The license can be granted only by the author — the person who owns the copyright. A license is a formal document which specifies the rights being shared, and the conditions attached to this sharing. The license can come for free (gratis) or may require a “license fee” .
The difference between copyright and license is similar between an ownership document (of a house) and a rent/lease agreement (for the house). While renting out an apartment, the owner specifies various conditions (see examples below), but retains the ownership with himself. Another analogy would be like buying a train ticket. The passenger gets the right to use the train, the train still belongs to the railway company. The ownership is not transferred to the tenant (house) or the passenger (train). A more common place comparison could be the road license you obtain (by paying a fee — sometimes called as road tax) for your car or vehicle. Only the conditions of usage by the tenant/passenger/road user is formalised.
In the case of road license (road tax), you are authorised to drive on public roads, subject to your following a whole lot of (complex) traffic rules. You may use the road, but you do NOT own the road !
For a house/apartment :
Here are some common examples of conditions which can be specified in a rent/ lease document :
Usage: The tenant may not use the apartment for commercial purposes. The tenant may not store weapons, explosives etc. in the apartment. The tenant should not disturb the peace and tranquility of the neighbourhood.
Copying / distribution: The tenant may not be allowed to hire out the apartment to others. He is not authorised to sell or mortgage the apartment.
Modifications: The tenant is not allowed to make any modifications to the structure (e.g. breaking walls, blocking windows or doors etc.). The tenant may also not be allowed to repaint the apartment. The tenant may not add rooms or extensions of any kind.
Attribution: The tenant must retain the actual owner’s name and title in all documents pertaining to the house.
The train ticket analogy is pretty similar. Each train company can impose its own set of restrictions/limitations with the ticket you buy, for instance :
Usage: This ticket permits you to travel only between the stations mentioned in the ticket (via the route specified, if any). Some tickets also specify the train or the class you can travel, or even the dates and time of travel. Sometimes, even the compartment number and the seat number may be imposed.
Copying : You cannot use a copied ticket for travel. The ticket is not transferable.
Modifications: You cannot make any modifications to the train or compartment you are travelling in.
Like a rent/lease agreement, a license may adopt / impose similar conditions. The license may or may not require payment of any kind.
A license is a contract between the author and the user. The author is free to take any action, if the user violates any conditions mentioned in the license (copyright infringement). The author may take up
any legal step, like: simple , written warning, “cease and desist” legal notice, litigation, penalty, arrest and prosecution …… The availability and cost of such options may vary from country to country.
Certain businesses e.g. music and entertainment business, have advocated the extension and expansion of copyright and sought additional legal and technological enforcement. The computer software industry has its own adaptation. There is a plethora of licensing schemes adapted for the computer software industry. Two licenses stand out, for their popularity:
* The GNU General Public License (GPL), created by the Free Software Foundation (FSF).
* The Creative Commons License
These two licenses provide an unambiguous and standardised framework for sharing computer software or similar literary publications, and makes life generally easy for both the user and the author. It is generally painful and cumbersome for the author to detect all copyright infringement, all the time, and take up legal action against the alleged offender. The user feels assured that he may not have overlooked any invisible restrictions or rights.
Some social activists object to restrictions imposed in the name of copyright. Two examples of such movement are :
Both these movements define a legal framework for overcoming copyright restrictions (in specific cases).
DISCLAIMER: The author is NOT an expert in legal matters. The above post is only his personal impression on copyright. Consult a qualfied and competent legal professional for confirmation on the above.
NOTE: All the downloadable material published by this author on the web, are licensed under a CC-BY-SA License.