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FAQ -- US Copyright Law

May 18, 1998 07:47 PM
by M K Ramadoss

FAQ on US Copyright Law

1. A minor child, using crayons, scribbles a jumble of words on a piece of
paper. Is it copyrightable? Who owns the copyright?

The moment something is fixed on a paper or some other medium, it
automatically gets copyright. 

The child owns the Copyright.

2. Are postings to maillists, newsgroups copyrighted? Who owns the Copyright?


   The writer of the message owns the Copyright. 

3. Is registration necessary to obtain Copyright?


4. Can a message on the maillist or newsgroup be copied and distributed
(hard copy, electronically or on maillists or newsgroups) without the
permission of the writer?


5. If one has the physical possession of a letter or copy of a letter, can
hard copies be made and distributed or letter posted in maillists or


   Distribution of copies or posting on maillists or newsgroups without
permission of the copyright holder is copyright violation.

6. Can one criticize or reply by quoting the letter in its entirety?


   Any reproduction in its entirety is copyright violation.

7. Can one report the content of a letter, quote, criticize, or critique
the  letter in print or electronic medium (such as maillist or newsgroup?)

   Yes, if "Fair Use" provision of US Copyright law is complied with. 

8. What is "Fair Use" under US Copyright law?

   US Copyright law defines "Fair Use" as:
   Fair use includes reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other
means, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching
(including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research. In
determining fair use, the factors considered shall include -- 

   (1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is
of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes; 
   (2) the nature of the copyrighted work; 
   (3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the
copyrighted work as a whole; and 
   (4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the
copyrighted work. 
       The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding
of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above


   9. In applying the "fair use" defined above, does it make a difference
between a not-for-profit use for reporting, comment, critique, news
reporting etc. and for-profit use?


   Not-for-profit use will make it easier to substantiate "fair use" if
challenged by copyright holder.

10. X has an *unpublished* document or letter. The copyright to it is owned
by Y. Can X disclose and report on the contents of the document or letter
or comment or critique it under Fair Use provisions of the Copyright law?

    "Fair use" provision of the Copyright law applies to both published or
unpublished material.

    [The US Copyright law was specially amended in 1992 permitting "fair
use" of unpublished material under "fair use" provision of the law.] 


Some links for additional information on US Copyright laws:

Terry Carroll's FAQ:

Templeton's Myths about Copyright:

US Copyright Office:


Note: The above FAQ is for general understanding of some of the basic
aspects of the US Copyright Law. The law in other countries will vary. The
above FAQ is also not legal advise or opinion. Copyright matters can be
complicated depending on a case by case basis. If in doubt, one should seek
professional advise from a copyright attorney.

The FAQ is placed in Public Domain. Anyone can reproduce or distribute it
in its entirety so long as no changes are made to it.

5/18/1998 - M K Ramadoss -

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