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Article - 'Protecting Your Work' by KaosTenshi

An item about Miscellanious posted on Jan 14, 2004


Have you done custom drawings for your game to promote it? Afraid they might be stolen? Learn how to protect your work (literary, artistic, musical, and otherwise), on the internet.


Most people don’t really know what a copyright is; some think that only professionally published works can be copyrighted, while others believe you have to register a copyright for it to be in effect. Both of these beliefs are FALSE.

Copyright protection covers published and un-published works of literary, artistic, and scientific nature. Copyright protects these works regardless of their medium of expression, as long as they are tangible material. You can’t copyright an idea, but if you can put that idea into a form that can be touched, seen, or heard, then you can protect it with a copyright. A piece of music, HTML coding, a theatrical act, or even a unique dance move can be protected.

So what exactly does copyright do? A copyright gives the creator the exclusive rights to their material. They are allowed to distribute it, perform it, or display it. They also have the right to modify it or create a derivative of their original material. No one else can claim ownership over it; it is the sole property of its creator, unless he or she sells these rights or clearly states that their material is public domain.

“It doesn’t have a © on it, so it’s not copyrighted.”
Again, this is false. Material does not have to have a “©”, a date, or a name on it; it is protected by copyright laws the moment it is created and put into a tangible form. This law went into effect April 1st of 1989, and all original material since then falls under its protection. So, artists and writers, does this mean you don’t have to put a “©” on your works? Yes it does.

HOWEVER, it’s still a very good idea to put a “©” on your works, as well as a proper copyright notice. It isn’t necessary to protect your work, but if someone does decide to steal it, having a proper copyright notice on your work does make it much easier to prove that it’s yours. What does a copyright notice look like? Good question. Both of these are proper forms of copyright notice:

Copyright (date/s) by (author).
© (date/s) by (author).

Be certain that you use an actual “©” symbol. A “(c)” is not a legal symbol, and doesn’t mean a darn thing in a court of law. Now, let’s take a look at a ‘sample copyright’ for a moment.

© 1999-2002 by John Doe.

Now, the date on this copyright is something many people don’t understand. The ‘1999’ clearly shows that the work being copyrighted was created in 1999, but does this mean the copyright expires in 2002? No, it doesn’t. Let’s say John created a piece of digital artwork in 1999, and later in 2001 he came back and retouched the art, then retouched it again in 2002. The copyright is them updated to show that it was later modified. If he had only worked on it in 1999 and 2002, then the copyright would say “© 1999, 2002 by John Doe”. So if the copyright didn’t expire in 2002, then when does it expire? Well, generally work created since January 1st of 1978 will expire seventy years after the death of the original author. If it’s anonymous work or someone is hired to create it, then the copyright will last for either 95 years after the first publication, or 125 years after it’s creation (which ever comes first). If the work was created before January 1st, 1978, then the expiration date varies depending on a lot of things. So basically, you’re not going to find original work on the internet that has expired.

Now, let’s talk about derivative works. If you were to take a picture of Cloud from Final Fantasy 7, change his hair color, change his sword color, and give him a necklace and a hat, does this mean he’s now your original character and the picture belongs to you? No, it is an illegally modified image, and is a copyright violation. What about derivative written works?

Let’s say that Mr. John Doe were to write a fan fiction based on my webcomic “Shades of Red”. For starters, John would need my permission to do this. So, yes, basically all fan fiction is copyright illegal; if you wrote a Final Fantasy 6 fan fiction but you neglected to ask Squaresoft’s permission, then you’re violating a copyright. Most copyright holders don’t mind if you write fan fiction, but some do. Writing a derivative work based on someone else’s original material is a privilege, not a right, and it can be revoked by the original creator whenever they choose. So if I were to allow John Doe to write a fan fiction without asking me, he can’t copyright the story just because he wrote it, because it is still a derivative work.

On the other hand, there is also parodying. If John were to write a story that made fun of a copyrighted work, such as Gone With The Wind, it would be considered a parody, and thus falls under fair use. What this means is that if he were sued for copyright infringement, he could be protected as long as he admitted it was copied. A judgment is then made based on John’s intentions and goals for copying the work.

“I found it online, so it must be copyright-free clip art.”
Again, this is FALSE. This is also one of the biggest copyright misunderstandings in existence. Just because you found it online and there is no copyright notice on it doesn’t mean that it’s public domain. By using or displaying this artwork, you are violating copyright laws, even if you don’t charge for it. Claiming it’s free advertisement for the creator or that you didn’t know it was copyrighted won’t get you off the hook… Ignorance about laws never holds up in court.

So, do you want to learn more about copyright laws? Here are some helpful sites.

The Copyright Files: Respect Artists. Don't Steal.

What Is Copyright Protection?

10 Big Myths About Copyright Explained

Online Fanarts Protection

United States Copyright Office

Most country’s copyright laws are governed by the Berne Union for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Property, also known as the Berne Convention. If you live outside of the United States and you’re uncertain about your country’s specific copyright laws, be certain to look them up if you have any questions. Remember, copying is easy, but creating is hard.

Also, if you sell more than ten copies of copyright violated work and the value is over $2500 in damages to the owner, it’s a felony. Think about that. XD