Copyright infringement in the most general sense is the act of
substantially reproducing or copying a work, without permission of the copyright owner.
Even if the work is a totally new creation, it may be judged a "derivative work" which also falls under copyright infringement, e.g. a story about a young girl with a lightning scar on her forearm who attends a school for magic...
(Incidentally, the name of a character such as Harry Potter can be protected by a trademark.)
Please refer to our main Copyright page for more information on copyright protection and various related free legal forms.
The owner of a work has the right to control the use of the work - translations, adaptations, broadcast, performance, reproduction - and to benefit financially from the work. A violation of any of these rights will be seen as infringement.
The law will deal even more harshly with offenders if it is done for commercial gain such as the piracy of music, films and computer games.
Copyrights can be transferred to another person and this should be done in writing. Take a look at our Assignment of Copyright agreement which makes provision for a description of the work and whether all or specific rights are transferred to the assignee.
The alternative to assignment of copyright would be for the copyright owner to retain his/her right, but grant a copyright license to another. This can be either an:
Furthermore, there are a range of copyright licenses and there may be further restrictions e.g. geographical area, product, time limitation, whether attribution is required etc. This can be a minefield and consulting with an experienced copyright attorney is essential if you are unsure about copyright licenses!
A distinction must be made between what is publicly accessible (for example, content on the internet) and what is in the public domain (owned by the public). Copyright infringement is not applicable to work which is in the public domain. Examples of such material are:
Should you wish to use portions of someone else's work for anything but limited personal use, you should get permission. If in doubt, consult with your copyright attorney for advice.
The simplest case scenario for infringement may just be a letter from the author requesting the removal of the infringing material from your work.
If infringement is proven in court, the following penalties may be imposed - depending on the scope and purpose of infringement and to what extent the rights of the owner have been affected.
Claiming fair use as defense against copyright infringement is open to interpretation by the courts and unfortunately there are no hard and fast rules.