What is Copyright? A Primer
Copyright is essentially a property right that is applied to the physical expressions of someone’s creative thought.
A creative idea alone cannot be eligible for copyright, but the physical expression of that idea (often referred to as the work, content or materials) can be protected by copyright. Books, movies, radio shows, artworks, photographs, stage plays and music are all forms of intellectual property (or IP) that can be subject to copyright. In educational circles, textbooks, courses, and other commercially produced teaching resources are usually copyrighted.
The key rights that are protected by copyright include:
- the creator’s right to be identified as the creator/owner of the work
- the creator’s exclusive right to copy and sell the work (eg, print copies of a book or DVD)
- licensing rights (the right of the creator or creator’s employer to authorise the reproduction of a work to a third party, such as a publisher)
In practice a single work may contain multiple separate copyrights. For example, a coffee table book’s copyright is usually owned by the publisher, while the images may be copyrighted to a variety of commercial photographers / illustrators.
In a modern context, copyright provides the legal framework that gives the creator of a work to benefit financially from their labours, thereby enabling the creative industries to exist. Most copyright licenses on purchased IP are therefore commercial in nature, and bear the ubiquitous ‘©’ symbol (see box below). Creative Commons licenses, on the other hand, are a form of copyright license used in situations where the content’s creator wishes to encourage the distribution and use of their content.
Copyright is a globally recognised concept that is covered both by international convention and national legislation. Staff at Otago Polytechnic must adhere to New Zealand law, specifically the 1994 New Zealand Copyright Act. Penalties for copyright infringement can be severe, and a basic understanding of the issues is a must for all professional educators.