Copyright Holder Rights

The United States Copyright Act ("Copyright Act"), under 17 U.S.C. §§ 101-810, permits copyright owners to have the exclusive right to reproduce, prepare derivative works, distribute, publicly perform, and display the copyrighted work.

The rights to reproduce and distribute copyrighted work include the right to copy and sell copyrighted works. Musicians hold the right to reproduce their songs and sell them for a profit. The right to produce a derivative work involves creating a new product that is based on an originally copyrighted work. This is most often seen in a literary author's right over an adaption of the author's work into a motion picture. The rights to perform and display copyrighted work include the right to showcase a copyright work directly, or through the use of a medium. For instance, copyright ownership of a motion picture includes the right to display the movie for public viewing.

These rights do not extend to consumers who rightfully purchase copyrighted material. The copyright owner holds these rights until the owner explicitly transfers the rights through the requisite means. A copyright owner may transfer all or part of copyright ownership through an assignment, license, or mortgage. A copyright owner may also transfer copyright ownership upon death through a will. Additionally, if a copyright owner files for bankruptcy, the court may involuntarily transfer profitable copyright ownership to compensate creditors. Voluntary transfers of copyright ownership are unique in that the original owners may terminate the transfer a period of time after the transfer.

Provisions within the Copyright Act limit certain aspects of copyright holders' rights. Specifically, 17 U.S.C. section 107 allows for the fair use of copyrighted material for "criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research." As such, in certain contexts, professors who distribute copyrighted works to students for teaching purposes are not committing copyright infringement.

Furthermore, two or more parties can be joint copyright holders if the parties contributed equally to the creation of the indivisible parts of the copyright. In this case, the parties hold copyright ownership equally. In addition, if an employee or independent contractor creates a copyrighted work in the course and scope of business, the employer is the copyright owner. The specifics of copyright ownership and rights of the holder depend largely on the copyrighted item and the circumstances of its creation.

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