Rights of Copyright Holders


From conception to production‚ you spend a considerable amount of time working hard on your creation‚ and now it is ready for release. Under the U.S. Copyright Act‚ a copyright owner is granted five exclusive rights to original works of authorship.

The Right to Reproduction

Perhaps the most fundamental copyright right‚ the right to reproduce‚ allows only the copyright owner to reproduce his or her work and make copies. “Substantial and material” reproduction is enough to constitute an infringement. In other words‚ even partial reproduction can be considered a violation of the copyright owner’s rights.

The Right to Prepare Derivative Works

The Copyright Act states that a derivative work is: “a work based upon one or more preexisting works‚ such as a translation‚ musical arrangement‚ dramatization‚ fictionalization‚ motion picture version‚ sound recording‚ art reproduction‚ abridgment‚ condensation‚ or any other form in which a work may be recast‚ transformed‚ or adapted.”

An example of a derivative work would be a film adaptation of a novel‚ or an updated version of a software program.

The Right to Distribution

Only the copyright holder of a work has exclusive rights to sell‚ rent‚ lease‚ or lend the work. The copyright holder may bring legal action against any party that distributes the work without authorization. If the copyright holder does authorize the distribution of a particular work‚ the copyright owner has full control over its first distribution. However‚ according to the “first sale doctrine”‚ generally the copyright holder does not have any control over what happens to a copy beyond first distribution. For example‚ a book can be loaned or resold by its purchaser. There are some limitations to the first sale doctrine. Software‚ for example‚ cannot be rented.

The Right to Public Performance

Public performances of a copyrighted work are controlled by the holder. This right applies to the following types of works:

  • Literature
  • Music
  • Drama
  • Choreography
  • Pantomimes
  • Motion pictures
  • Audio visual works

A “public” space is defined as a “place open to the public”‚ or “a place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances are gathered.” A performance is also rendered public if it is transmitted to multiple locations‚ such as through the Internet‚ television‚ and radio. However‚ performing a copyrighted song at a party of friends or reading a famous poet’s work to a friend would not constitute a violation of this provision of the Copyright Act‚ since such uses are not considered public.

The Right to Public Display

Similar to the public performance right‚ this grants the copyright holder of a work the exclusive right to the public “display” of the work. This right applies to the following types of works:

  • Literature
  • Music
  • Drama
  • Choreography
  • Pantomimes
  • Pictorial works
  • Graphical works
  • Sculptures
  • Stills from motion pictures

The definition of “public” regarding this right is the same as that of the right to performance.

Copyright Legal Counsel

If you wish to protect your copyright‚ or learn more about your rights as a copyright holder‚ please feel free to contact us.


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