Sorry. Couldn’t resist the awful pun. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with classic musical theatre — we’ll let you stay. And this title refers to the song Surrey with the Fringe on top from Oklahoma.) But we digress.
In Do I Need a Copyright? we talked about some of the basic definitions. In this post, we take a look at some other definitions and resources for members who want more information.
Infringement. If you feel someone has infringed on your work, in other words, has used it and claimed it as their own work, it is treated the same as theft. If the theft can be established in court, the court can award damages and attorney fees.
Fair use. This can be tricky. As a journalist, I can quote a person or a creative work in an article, news story or review. But if I do so in a commercial work such as a book or screenplay, it might be infringement. Fair use depends upon the purpose and character of use and the effect on the market for the original work. In Reid’s example, when Woody Allen was charged with infringement on the work of William Faulkner (Midnight in Paris vs. Requiem for a Nun) the court’s decision was that Faulkner’s work was “transformed” enough so that it became original in Woody Allen’s. The key, Reid said, is that it is “transformative.”
A picture of another work. If you take a photograph or screen shot of an artist’s painting or any creative work, the work is still not yours. It is considered a “derivative work” of the original and is protected under copyright.
Libel in fiction. If you write about a living person, it is not libel unless you make a “false and defamatory statement of fact ” about an identifiable living person or business entity. And you can’t libel a deceased person, but you can run into trouble if your story reflects badly on a living relative of that person.
Name brands in fiction. As long as you do not show or write about real brands in a way that reflects badly on the companies who manufacture them, you are probably okay because it is like free advertising for the brand.
Song lyrics in fiction. This is considered particularly risky because music producers and distributors can be very aggressive about protecting rights. Your work may be seen as an infringement or a derivative. You can use lyrics in the public domain, or contact the publisher for permission. You can find the name and contact information for the music publisher by looking at the sheet music for the song.
Here are two great websites that have additional, valuable copyright information for authors: