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copyright, right granted by statute to the author or originator of certain literary, artistic, and musical productions whereby for a limited period of time he or she controls the use of the product. The work may be reproduced by the individual or by another licensed to do so by the individual. Royalties are paid on each performance of the work or each copy that is sold.

Copyrightable Materials

Literary matter, periodicals, maps, photographs, works of art, textile and other designs, sound recordings, musical compositions, photoplays, and radio and television programs are among the commodities that may be copyrighted. Material for copyright in the United States must be registered and deposited with the Library of Congress. The law makes special provision for the transmission of copyright material over cable television, jukeboxes, and public broadcasting stations. It also specifies circumstances under which the reproduction of copyrighted works by libraries and archives is permissible. Since 1980, computer software has been eligible for the same copyright protection as printed matter, and in 1984, a ten-year period of copyright protection was extended to semiconductor chips. The Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that neither the home use of television video recorders nor their manufacture violated the copyright laws.

The Bern and Universal Copyright Conventions

Copyrighting of foreign materials in the United States is a relatively recent development. After 1891, foreign language material was easily copyrighted in the United States; material in English, however, could not be copyrighted if it was imported, unless type was set and material printed and bound in the United States. Most of the major countries of the world, with the exception of the United States, adhered to the Bern Convention of 1887, which provided that literary material copyrighted in any signatory country automatically enjoys copyright in all the signatory countries.

The Universal Copyright Convention (UCC), which had as a main purpose the inclusion of the United States in a general system of international copyright, was signed at Geneva in 1952. It was accepted by the United States in 1954 and came into effect the following year. The U.S. copyright law was modified to conform to the convention, notably by elimination of procedural steps for the establishment of U.S. copyright in works published in other signatory countries and of the requirement that works in the English language by foreign authors be manufactured in the United States to obtain U.S. copyright protection. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) played a leading part in the negotiations for the UCC, which was revised in 1971. In 1989 the United States became a member of the Bern Convention, which was most recently revised in 1971. Most nations subscribe to the convention, and most of those who do not are parties to the UCC or members of the World Trade Organization, whose agreements cover copyright and other intellectual property rights.


Protection of rights in literary property did not appear necessary in Europe prior to the invention of printing from movable type in the 15th cent. The sovereign asserted control over printing by issuing patents or privileges to individuals or by organizing publishers' guilds with monopoly rights. Through such devices, the state was able to censor heresy and sedition, while at the same time fostering literature. The only protection that the common law extended to the author was against publication of the work without permission; once publication was allowed, the work passed completely out of the author's control.

The first English copyright act (1710), while maintaining the common-law right, allowed the author to copyright a work for 14 years (with a like period of renewal); it also required deposition of copies and a notice that the work was copyrighted. That law was the model for the earliest American copyright statute, passed in 1790. Wheaton v. Peters (1834; see Henry Wheaton) established that copyright exists primarily for the public benefit rather than for the creator of the work. The current copyright statute was enacted in 1976 and became effective in 1978, superseding an act of 1909. There have been significant amendments enacted since then, including a 1988 law that implemented the United State's accession to the Bern Convention and a 1994 law that implemented changes that resulted from the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (which established the World Trade Organization). In most cases, the law provides copyright for the duration of the author's life plus 70 years.


See B. Kaplan, An Unhurried View of Copyright (1967); W. S. Strong, The Copyright Book (1986); H. G. Henn, Copyright Law (1988); J. M. Samuels, ed., Patent, Trademark, and Copyright Laws (1989); E. Samuels, The Illustrated Story of Copyright (2000).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the area of civil law which regulates the legal relations involved in the creation and use (publication, performance, showing, etc.) of works of science, literature, and art—that is, the products of the creative activity of people in these areas.

Socialist copyright takes as its basis the principle of combining personal and public interests; it ensures the moral and material stimulation of creative workers for creating socially useful works and disseminating scientific and cultural values among the masses. In the USSR, the norms of copyright are contained in the Fundamentals of Civil Legislation of the USSR and the Union republics, in the Civil Code, in model authors’ agreements, and in the acts of the Council of Ministers of the USSR, the councils of ministers of Union republics, and also of the departments of the USSR and the Union republics.

In the USSR the author has the right to the publication, reproduction, and distribution of his work in all manners permitted by law—that is, the use of an author’s work is not permitted without his agreement and without conclusion of an author’s agreement; the right to authorship and the author’s name—in particular, the right to publication of the work under a pseudonym or anonymously; the right to the inviolability of the work, which means that only the author himself may introduce changes into his work or permit others to do so. All these competences—subjective copyrights—belong to the category of personal nonproperty rights. In addition, the author has subjective copyright to receive compensation for the use of the work by other individuals, except for cases indicated directly in the law. The instances when the use of a work without consent of the author and without payment of compensation is permitted in the interests of society include, in particular, the reproduction of published works in newspapers, in the cinema, on the radio, and on television; the reprinting of certain amounts of published works in scientific and critical works and educational and political-education publications; the alteration of the work into new, creatively independent works, etc. The consent of the author is not required, but compensation is paid, when published works, for example, are performed publicly or released on recordings. In the interests of broadening cultural exchange among the peoples of the USSR, translation of published works into the languages of the different nationalities is permitted without consent but with the notification of the author (the so-called freedom of translation). Legislation of the Union republics often reserves for the author the right to receive an honorarium when his work is used in translation, in particular, translation into Russian. The author’s rights are also protected in the case when the work is created in the course of fulfilling work duties; however, an author’s compensation above his wages is paid only if this is especially provided for by legislation (for example, for the publication of manuals and textbooks).

Copyright belongs to the author for life; the right to the publication, reproduction, and distribution of a work and the right to receive compensation is maintained for a 15–year period for the heir. In addition, competence in the protection of the inviolability of a work is secured for heirs and certain public organizations (for example, the Union of Writers of the USSR) after the death of the author.

For foreigners, copyright is recognized for works that are first published in the USSR or not published but existing within the boundaries of the USSR. Other works of foreigners may be protected only on the basis of and within the limits of international agreements concluded between the Soviet Union and other countries (for example, the agreement of Nov. 17, 1967, with Hungary, Sobranie postano-vienii Soveta ministrov SSSR (Collection of Resolutions of the Council of Ministers of the USSR, 1967, no. 30, art. 213).

A violated copyright may be protected by a legal action to restore a right (by means of a notice on authorship in the press, the introduction of corrections, etc.), to prevent a work’s publication, to suspend its distribution, or to recover losses resulting from the violation of copyright, usually in the amount of remuneration not received. Plagiarism is punished as a criminal offense.

Copyright in socialist countries has the same goals and is based on the same principles as Soviet copyright but has certain distinctive features. For example, in these countries copyright puts significantly narrower limits on the free use of a work, does not recognize freedom of translation, establishes a longer period of operation of copyright after the death of the author (20–50 years), and so forth.

The basic function of bourgeois copyright is to establish a monopoly on the sale of the work, which is treated as a commodity. As a rule, the author transfers the monopoly rights for the distribution and use of the work to an entrepreneur—a publisher, manager, film producer, etc. In bourgeois legislation, the personal property rights of the author are secondary; their real scope is limited in many cases. (Thus, in the USA the author’s right to the inviolability of the work is not recognized.) In many countries, the alienation of the monopoly (exclusive rights) to the use of the work in different manners is permitted for the whole active period of the copyright (usually not less than 50 years after the death of the author).

The majority of the capitalist states and all the socialist states of Europe except Albania guarantee the mutual protection of copyright for the works of their citizens and other works released on their territory by means of multilateral international conventions, of which the most broadly applied are the Berne (1886) and the so-called Universal (1952) Conventions.


Nauchno-prakticheskii kommentarii k GK RSFSR. Moscow, 1966. Section 4.
Antimonov, B. S., and E. A. Fleishits. Avtorskoe pravo. Moscow, 1957.
Ioffe,O. S. Sovetskoe grazhdanskoe pravo, part 3. Leningrad, 1965.
Serebrovskii, V. I. Voprosy sovetskogo avtorskogoprava. Moscow, 1956.
Grazhdanskoe i torgovoe pravo kapitalisucheskikh gosudarstv. Edited by K. K. Iaichkov. Moscow, 1966. Chapter 25.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. the exclusive right to produce copies and to control an original literary, musical, or artistic work, granted by law for a specified number of years (in Britain, usually 70 years from the death of the author, composer, etc., or from the date of publication if later).
2. (of a work, etc.) subject to or controlled by copyright
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


The exclusive rights of the owner of the copyright on a work to make and distribute copies, prepare derivative works, and perform and display the work in public (these last two mainly apply to plays, films, dances and the like, but could also apply to software).

A work, including a piece of software, is under copyright by default in most coutries, whether of not it displays a copyright notice. However, a copyright notice may make it easier to assert ownership. The copyright owner is the person or company whose name appears in the copyright notice on the box, or the disk or the screen or wherever.

A copyright notice has three parts. The first can be either a c with a circle around it (LaTeX \copyright), or the word Copyright or the abbreviation Copr. A "c" in parentheses: "(c)" has no legal meaning. This is followed by the name of the copyright holder and the year of first publication.

Countries around the world have agreed to recognise and uphold each others' copyrights, but this world-wide protection requires the use of the c in a circle.

Originally, most of the computer industry assumed that only the program's underlying instructions were protected under copyright law but, beginning in the early 1980s, a series of lawsuits involving the video screens of game programs extended protections to the appearance of programs.

Use of copyright to restrict redistribution is actually immoral, unethical, and illegitimate. It is a result of brainwashing by monopolists and corporate interests and it violates everyone's rights. Copyrights and patents hamper technological progress by making a naturally abundant resource scarce. Many, from communists to right wing libertarians, are trying to abolish intellectual property myths.

See also public domain, copyleft, software law.

US Copyright Office Circular 61 - Copyright Registration for Computer Programs.

The US Department of Education's "How Does Copyright Law Apply to Computer Software".

Usenet newsgroup:

This article is provided by FOLDOC - Free Online Dictionary of Computing (


The legal ownership of a "work," which can take any of the following forms: written text, program source code, graphics images, sculpture, music, sound recording, motion picture, pantomime, choreograph and architecture. Before January 1, 1978, a work had to be published to be copyrighted. After that date, any work expressed in paper or electronic form is automatically copyrighted for the life of the author plus 70 years. Registration with the Copyright Office is not required, although it is beneficial if there are disputes later on. In the U.S., a copyright symbol is not mandatory, but recommended.

For works by an anonymous author or an author who uses a fictitious name (pseudonymous) as well as works "made for hire," such as a publication written by an employee of a company, the copyright lasts 120 years from date of creation or 95 years from date of publication, whichever is shorter. For more information, visit See plagiarism, fair use doctrine, Creative Commons, copyleft, trademarks, DRM and image protection.
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