What is copyright?
Copyright is a legal term describing ownership of control of the rights to the use and distribution of certain works of creative expression, including books, videos, motion pictures, musical compositions and computer programs. Historically, copyright law has been enacted to balance the desire of cultures to use and reuse creative works — thus creating “derivative work” — against the rights of authors of art, literature, music and the like to monetize their work by controlling who can make and sell copies of the work.
To strike this balance, the exclusivity of control is almost always restricted to a set period of years, after which a copyright-protected work reverts to the public domain and may be freely used.
Who is a copyright owner?
The copyright holder is often a company or corporation. If a work is created as a component of employment — work for hire — then the copyright for the work defaults to the employer. But also individuals, especially artists (photographers, musicians, writers or any other creative mind), can be copyright owners.
Copyright ownership is bounded by the territory of the jurisdiction in which it has been granted — copyright granted by the United States is valid only within that country, for example — as well by certain specific exceptions. Much of international copyright law was brought into relative conformity with the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works — usually referred to as the Berne Convention — in 1886, with numerous subsequent revisions over the decades.
Copyrights in IT, Internet and digital life
The World Intellectual Property Organization Copyright Treaty — also known as the WIPO Copyright Treaty or WCT — was adopted in 1996 to cover information technology and the internet, elements not directly addressed in the Berne Convention.