Basics of the Copyright Law

Copyright and Copyright Law: do we really understand what it means? Let’s figure out the basic things about Copyright.

U.S. copyright law evolved from English Common Law and Statutory Law.  During more than two hundred years copyright has grown up into a complex body of law. The USA Founders included copyright in the Constitution, and its rights and limits are still a part of the continuous debate.

Copyright law is about balance. It gives creators the right to control their works along with being compensated for various uses of their works. At the same time, these rights are limited in time and scope. It was done with the purpose to give the public an opportunity to access the creative works and reuse them in new creative ways.


Image credit:

Often the copyright is understood only as a scope of restrictions while in reality it has permissive aspects such as Fair Use Doctrine and the Public Domain.

The Fair Use doctrine means the use of the creative work not for gaining profit but rather for information and educational purposes.

The Public Domain doctrine means that the copyright works go to the public use when the copyright terms and intellectual property rights are expired, been forfeited, or are inapplicable. Examples of such works are poems by Shakespeare and Dante, music by Mozart and Tchaikovsky, paintings of old masters, first silent movies.

“The term is not normally applied to situations when the creator of a work retains residual rights, in which case use of the work is referred to as “under license” or with permission. In informal usage, the public domain consists of works that are publicly available; while according to the formal definition it consists of works that are unavailable for private ownership or are available for public use.”  

In order to show the copyright it is accustomed to use several symbols that are not quite the same.


The or SM symbols are to be used for marks that are claiming the rights to the creation or for marks whose trademark applications are pending. Sometimes these symbols are governed by the state laws so it may be useful to check with the local authorities.

The symbol ® means that the trademark is Federally registered. It should be used only if you have received Federal trademark registration.

The sign © can be used with any copyrighted material, registered or not. Unlike trademarks, copyrights appear as soon as something is created, so you can use this symbol freely for anything you create that is covered by copyright (images, paintings, books, music, etc.).


A lot of work is being done and sold online. Is your website protected? Since everything is considered to have a copyright as soon as it is created, websites are protected by copyright even if you do not choose to register the copyright, and in this case you can freely use the copyright sign.

Once you produced your creation you can add the TM symbol, and it gives you a level of protection. You can put on anything – it just means that you consider it to be a trademark for your creations. You can use the sign quite freely.

The sign ® is used to indicate that your trademark is registered with the government. Only use the sign “Registered” if you’ve actually registered the trademark formally.

Remember one more important thing: you cannot copyright a method. But you can copyright your text and pictures.  In order to get a detailed advice or in case of any issues you should contact a lawyer specializing in the Copyright Law. // Natalie Burlutskaya, curator

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s