Copyright Basics (1 of 2)

Let’s start with the myths first:

“I only used 5 seconds of the song….I don’t need a license, right?”
“I mailed myself a copy of the song in a self-addressed postmarked envelope…that’s the same as registering it with the copyright office, right?”
“We’re not charging admission so I don’t need permission, right?”

No, no and no. The 1976 Copyright Act (as amended in 1998) provides copyright owners protection for an original work fixed in a tangible medium of expression (both known and later developed) in the following categories: literary works, musical works, dramatic works, pantomime and choreography, pictorial, graphic and sculptural works, motion picture and other audiovisual works, sound recordings and architectural works. As a copyright owner, you have the exclusive rights to do and to authorize any of the following:

  • To reproduce the copyrighted work in copies or phonorecords (audio-only devices, such as records, compact discs or audio cassettes);
  • To prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work, such as converting a book into a movie;
  • To distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease or lending;
  • In the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographed works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works, to perform the copyrighted work publicly. The performance may be live, by broadcast or over loudspeaker in a public place (store, museum, etc.). "Public" is defined as persons outside of your family or immediate circle of acquaintances;
  • In the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographed works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture and other audiovisual works, to exhibit the copyrighted work publicly.

There are some exceptions to these exclusive rights, such as reproduction by libraries and archives, educational and religious uses, fair use and parody. But none of these exceptions (or defenses to a claim of copyright infringement in the case of fair use and parody) should be relied upon summarily without expert advice from counsel.

This “bundle of rights” owned exclusively by the copyright owner means that any person or organization (even church choirs, school marching bands, etc) wishing to use a copyrighted work must secure the permission of the copyright owner and negotiate a fee for the use intended. Many copyrights have multiple owners and finding everyone is essential to securing One Hundred percent (100%) of the rights needed. There may be multiple owners, each of whom may need to be contacted. Some agreements between co-owners allow for one controlling party to administer the entire copyright. Other works require separate administration by each party for their respective shares. The following websites are great resources for finding writer and publisher information:,,,, and

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