Earlier this week, the Supreme Court of the United States of America issued an important decision on the case of American Broadcasting Cos. Inc., Et Al. v. Aereo, Inc. The key issue in this case was whether Aereo could broadcast copyrighted content (which it did not own the copyright to) that appeared on TV without obtaining a license to distribute the content. The Supreme Court ruled against Aereo, holding that its broadcasting of copyrighted content without a license from the copyright holder was unlawful.
Although the case hinged on technical, copyright law concepts which are too lengthy for discussion here, the Aereo case serves as a reminder for a very basic copyright law principle:
DON'T USE ANOTHER'S COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL UNLESS YOU FIRST OBTAIN THE LICENSE TO DO SO
But what is a copyright? According to the U.S. Copyright Office, a copyright is a "form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works."
This means that a work must be:
Copyrightable subject matters include, but are not limited to:
Notably, copyright law does not protect:
However, copyright law may protect how facts, ideas, systems and methods of operation are expressed.
Additionally, copyrights do not need to be registered anywhere for protection to exist. However, there are benefits to registering a copyright with the U.S. Copyright office, such as having the facts of the copyright on public record and also granting the copyright holder certain legal remedies such as statutory damages and legal fees in litigation.
It does not take very much for someone to have copyright protection, so people/businesses should be extra careful when using content in any way that they did not create. When it comes to using material this kind of material, err on the side of caution, and don't be like Aereo. Seek a license to use the work, which you will likely have to pay for, but will come far cheaper than any potential copyright infringement lawsuit.
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