Copyright Protection – Fair Use, First Sale, Duration and Summary

Fair Use

Other people can use (copy, perform, display, etc.) a copyrighted work for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research without infringing the copyright. Fair use is determined on a case-by-case basis. Whether a use is indeed a “fair use” depends largely on the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

First Sale

The owner of a lawful copy of a copyrighted work can sell, rent or otherwise dispose of that copy. Some exceptions to this rule are limitations on the rental and/or leasing of sound recordings and computer software.


Generally, a copyright lasts for the author’s lifetime plus 70 years for those works which were created after January 1, 1978. Thus, a copyright lasts considerably longer than a patent (20 years from the filing date for a utility patent) but not as long as a trademark, which can theoretically last forever. In the case of a “work for hire” e.g., a work created for a company by an employee the term is 95 years from the date of publication. Over the years a number of amendments and extensions have been made to copyright terms. Accordingly for works created prior to 1978, an attorney familiar with the myriad of rules should be consulted.


According to statute, the owner of a copyright has the exclusive right to do any of the following:

  • To reproduce the copyrighted work in copies or in phonorecords;
  • To prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work;
  • To distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work to the public by sale or transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending;
  • In the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, motion pictures and other audio visual works, to perform the copyrighted work publicly; and
  • In the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audio visual work, to display the copyrighted work publicly.

With the exceptions noted above, anyone who violates any of the exclusive rights of the copyright owner is an infringer. Consequences of infringement include injunctions, impounding and disposition of infringing articles, damages and profits, costs and attorneys fees. Further, importation of infringing copies may be prevented.

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