Is There Such a Thing as a Quick Copyright Question?


I have a quick copyright question…

Can we share an article in a licensed database with consultants attending a meeting on our premises?

We are going to publication right away and I need to know if we can include excerpts of lyrics from a song.

I just saw my original fabric designs which I sell on Etsy at a well known (name withheld) grocery store-what should I do?

Copyright Questions

These are “real” questions I receive all the time via email. I love to hear from you, but there are very few “quick” copyright questions, or at least very few quick copyright answers. It’s rarely quick for me to answer your copyright question because there are so many factors to be considered. These are some of the steps I go through when I receive a question:

  •  I carefully read your question
  •  I determine on which country’s laws it is based (I receive enquiries from around the world.)
  •  I have to ask you questions so that I can understand the context and all of your circumstances
  •  I apply the appropriate sections of the Copyright Act (taking into account court decisions) to your specific circumstances.

Simple Copyright Questions + Complicated Answers

Even seemingly simple questions do not always have quick answers. For example, what is the duration of copyright in the U.S.? The duration is life of the author plus 70 years after his death. However, that duration only applies to works created after 1 January 1978. It also only applies to work created by a single author. If you create a work with another person or with several authors, copyright is for 70 years after the last surviving author’s death. Or if you created the work during the course of employment and that work is considered a “work for hire” (which is another situation that depends on the facts in each instance), copyright is 95 years from first publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter. If the work was created before 1 January 1978, then different rules apply. You can see that even the simplest question isn’t simple at all.

Books and Courses to Answer Your Copyright Questions

I started writing books and blogs on copyright, as well as teaching copyright and licensing digital content to nonlawyers, to help demystify copyright and teach you how to analyze quick copyright questions that do not always have quick copyright answers. In the ideal world I enjoy working with you to answer all your copyright questions, but practically speaking the best solution is for you to be able to answer those questions yourselves. How? First, keep asking questions! That’s a good way to ensure that you’re evaluating and addressing your copyright needs. Second, understand copyright laws – read all you can, take copyright courses, analyze copyright situations before they happen so when you need a “quick” answer, you’re ahead of the game.

Please continue to share with me your interesting questions as they help me in my writing and teaching, but be aware that my most likely reply will be that there is no “quick” answer, it depends on the circumstances! And keep in mind that the best answer may in fact ultimately come from you.



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