Intellectual property right essentials
This page attempts to outline the essentials of "copyright" and the
way the concept works irrespective of local national legislation. It
also attempts to address the question as it pertains to electronic
For details, see the FAQ (Frequently asked
questions) and 10 myths
about copyright on this server.
The basic tenet of "copyright" is that a person has the sole right of
physical and intellectual ownership to any work that is in itself a
"unique work of art" created by that person alone. By extension, such
a work created by a group of people belongs to them in proportions to
which they have agreed.
The degree to which a work of intellectual creativity can be judged to
be "unique" is in essence the subject of the author's claim and in
consequence the result of formal arbitration should that claim be
In creating a unique work that might or might not be used by others
for entertainment, sustenance or gain, the author retains both rights
The concept of copyright can be broken down into three basic areas:
- attribution and integrity
The author of a work has the right to have his name attributed to
the work when it is published, quoted or otherwise displayed.
The integrity of the work shall be maintained unchanged unless the
author gives explicit permission. Common instances of such change
would be the adaptation of a work for performance, such in the
It is interesting to note that such adaptation might also extend to
publishing on the World-Wide Web and especially in the adaptation
of exectuable software programs.
Employees in private or public sector retain the right of
attribution and integrity unless otherwise agreed with their
- ownership, reproduction and distribution
For technical and economic reasons it has been customary for
authors to share the rights of commercial exploitation of their
works with publishers either by employment or contract. Examples of
the former are researchers in educational institutions and
staff journalists. Typical of the latter are independent authors
and free-lance journalists.
Such transfer or sharing of property rights might be agreed on the
basis of a complete sale for a one-time lump sum, for a limited
time royalty fee or for a limited number reproduction. Examples of
works that might typically be subjected to such agreements are
books, performances of plays, films, etc..
In media such as journalism and broadcasting a mixture of
agreements might be used. In addition to an agreed basic wage of
employment, the author might receive additional piecemeal payment
for each article or program produced. Such agreements might also
cover rights of remuneration for reprintings and retransmission.
- display and performance
In extension of original authorship come the rights associated with
unique creativity in performance, interpretation and
display. Examples are musical performances where the interpretation
of a certain piece of music will be considered unique. The same
pertains for example to films based on novels and CD ROMs or Websites
based on previously authored works. Rights of attribution and
remuneration are basically as covered in the two sections above.
Having created a unique work, two elementary aspects of responsibility
follow especially in situations where conflicting claims need to be
- income and compensation
Infringements of intellectual property right (i.e. attribution and
integrity) are traditionally not attributed great consequence. They
depend largely on the popularity and esteem of the author
irrespective of how stringent applicable law might be. It is for
instance inconceivable that a song performed or written by
well-known pop-stars not be attributed to the author or
performer. However, a small town architect will spend a life time
trying to explain his intellectual property rights to the local
news paper editor who inevitably attributes the work to builders,
property developers or owners of the building in question.
Conflicts of copyright inevitably boil down to fairly simple
equations which party has infringed the others fair and legal right
to income from the work in question.
There are numerous examples of vast sums being awarded in
compensation for lost income because a work as been illegally
copied and distributed and equally numerous awards of symbolic (and
ridiculously small) sums being awarded for copying where no
documented loss of income on part of the original author can be
- legal liability
While authors of unique works are eager to have their names
attributed to whatever product that may result, they often do not
pay equal attention to the legal liabilities that may
ensue. Claims for defamation of character, personal injury, lost
income and infringement of copyright are but a few of the conflicts
that may result from what might subjectively be considered a work
of quite innocuous composition.
It is quite normal for many professions such as law, medicine,
engineering and the journalistic media to retain insurance policies
in case of claims against professional negligence.
An author's claim to rights of attribution and remuneration for a
work will always be balanced by the perceived level of legal
liability that might perceivably be a consequence of the work in
question. If the author is an employee and legal liability not
otherwise agreed, the employer is usually liable thereby also
having claims to both attribution and income. In the case that the
author is the sole owner with respect both to attribution and
distribution, the legal liability also rests with him alone.
- Collective compensation
An interesting form of compensation for indirect distribution
arises in the case of recorded music that may have relevance for
publication on the Internet in the future. Several countries have
organizations for compensating musicians for works that are
performed publicly. Compensation is claimed as tariffs through
agreements with groups representing the broadcasting media,
cinemas, restaurants, etc. and redistributed to the property right
holders through membership in the organization and in affiliation
with other similar national organizations. The Internet has
recently come under the scrutiny of these organizations who's
workings may well be applied to other forms of information content
on the net.
An author's death does not automatically pass the intellectual
ownership rights into the public domain. Laws vary from country to
country, but current legislation in the European Community provides
for the retention of an author's rights to his estate for 70 years
after death. Beyond that rights may vary according to the number of
copies of a work that are available, their ownership and
- National security and non-disclosure agreements
Note that laws of national security such as those that apply to
civil servants may supersede intellectual property rights by common
consent. Contracts of non-disclosure might also conflict with
intellectual property rights which must be cleared before such
contracts are signed should the signatories so wish.
- Copyright on the Internet
Basically, "normal" laws and regulations of intellectual property
rights can be applied to the Internet. However, because of the ease
with which digital material can be distributed, details
particularly concerning copying and distribution can be interpreted
in ways that conflict with laws as they apply to print and broadcast
media which are those that most closely resemble the net.
Until such time as separate laws governing digital publication are
formulated, there is one very elementary rule that should be
No publication may be copied to another location for publication
without the express permission of the person or persons who
retain the copyright to the material.
In other words, links may be made to other material, but none of
the individual items published elsewhere may be "sourced" to
locations other than their origin. Links that bring other material
to a WWW browser must show that material in its entire and original
A particularly interesting aspect of publishing on the Internet is
that as soon as a publication is posted the author's property
rights to that material are affirmed in the same manner as they
would have been were it printed in a paper journal.
- International copyright
Authors publishing in countries that have no current laws of
intellectual property right should be aware that the laws of the
country in which the publication is read may be deemed to apply.
- Privacy Laws
Notwithstanding laws of intellectual property right and freedom of
expression, these may be superseded by privacy laws and censorship
laws in certain countries. This might specially pertain to
still photographs or live video published electronically.
These notes are based on my experience first as an architect whose intelectual copyright was infringed in various ways, major and minor, through 20 years of practice and subsequently as a software developer and publisher on the Internet.
Børre Ludvigsen, visiting professor at AUB, 1997
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Created by the Documentation Center at AUB in collaboration with Al Mashriq of Høgskolen i Østfold,
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