An Overview of Copyright

Dec 2022

WIPO defines copyright as the right of creators to ownership of their creations and to make use for commercial or other purposes. Copyright today covers literary creations, printed material, computer programs, data, audiovisual media, dance, paintings and drawings, photographs, sculpture, architecture, ad material, technical drawings and others that are the outcome of intellectual effort.

From covering only literary and artistic works, copyright today encompasses works of music, cinematography, audio, theatre and visuals. Technological innovations have broadened the scope of copyright necessitating amendments to cover technologies such as TV and internet.

In essence, copyright confers on the creator exclusive rights for a limited period to enjoy benefits of his intellectual and physical efforts. The creator has right to claim credit for his work and to grant rights to others to make use of his creation in its original or modified form in return for consideration. Copyright applies to any idea expressed in a substantive and identifiable form and not just the concept.

In earlier times governments applied copyright laws only to print media to give authors protection and right to enjoy fruits of their labour. Such laws are restricted to countries unless there is an international agreement in place. However, with the march of time, most copyright laws have become international in nature and are internationally standardized.

The nominal duration of copyright ranges from 50 to 100 years from the author’s demise when such author is known or for a shorter period when the author is unknown or when the creator is a business organization. Some countries require registration but most countries automatically confer copyright for any completed work. Civil legislation covers copyright with criminal laws applicable in some instances.

In today’s environment copyright laws balance rights of owner with interests of the public.

The scope of copyright laws:

Literature of all kinds whether published or unpublished including oral works and musical notations and lyrics.

  • Artistic works in the form of painting, drawing, etching, lithographs, 3 dimensional creations, computer generated art work, maps, technical drawings, photographs, motion picture or cinematography of all types.
  • Computer software ad programs.
  • Creative arts such as jewellery, wallpaper, furniture, handicrafts

Copyright applies usually to creations aimed at masses communicated through any type of media in any way. Vast in scope, it covers anything and everything produced by intellectual effort.

An incongruity is that copyright protects the outcome of the creative idea but not the idea itself that can be used by others to develop their own creations with their own copyright benefits.

The Universal Declaration of Human rights, article 27 states:

“Everyone has right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community to enjoy the arts and share in scientific advancements and its benefits.” And

“Everyone has the right to protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.”

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