Learn about copyright

Copyright legislation grants the creators of an original artistic or literary work exclusive rights to its use and distribution, usually for a limited time. These laws protect literary works, paintings, music or, as can be read on the website of Spain’s Ministry for Culture, “original literary, artistic, or scientific works, expressed on any media”. Copyright only protects the works themselves, not the ideas behind them. That is, if you are thinking about creating a symphony whose sounds are inspired by the spring, you will only be protected by copyright laws once you create the music and not while you’re just thinking about creating it.

What do you have to do to be protected by copyright? Being the content creator already protects you and turns you into that work’s copyright owner -any content creator owns its intellectual property from the moment the work is created. For example, a novel is under copyright from the moment it is written, not published -the writer is the owner of his novel’s copyright when he finishes writing it. Therefore, registering the work on the Registro de la Propiedad Intelectual (Intellectual Property Register), while advisable, is voluntary. However, to make this protection clearer, it is recommended to register the work.

Copyright is not only about attribution and moral rights. Being the owner of a work’s copyright not only forces everyone else to attribute the author or to not make other’s content pass off as their own, but also gives you control over what people do with it. Intellectual property gives its owner the right to decide whether they want to make the content public, or who can and cannot reproduce it, among other issues. Of course, intellectual property owners also control the work’s economic side.

Even though intellectual property grants authors control over their works, it is not eternal. Copyright has a limited life: it protects the work while the author is alive, and then some years after his death, when the author’s descendants own the intellectual property. In Spain, for example, copyright expires 70 or 80 years after the author’s death. Why do some authors have their works protected for 10 years longer than others? It all depends on the moment when they died, and the Copyright Law in force at the time. Works whose authors died before 1989 are copyrighted for 80 years, because the Copyright Law in force when they passed away was one from the 19th century, more conservative towards copyright.

The situation is different in every country, given that there’s no global copyright legislation. In general, in the EU works are protected for 70 years after the author’s death. Most countries in Latin America have different copyright laws. In Mexico, for example, works are copyrighted for 100 years after the author’s death, but only for 60 years in Venezuela.

In general, however, we could set the global minimum for copyright protection is on 50 years after the author’s death, excluding photographs, as stipulated by the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, signed for the first time in 1886 and renovated for the last time in the 70s. Nevertheless, and to be sure of not infringing any copyright, it is recommended to read each country’s regulation. Finding this specific laws is really easy -the UNESCO has a website with every country’s copyright laws.

When copyright expires, works enter the public domain, something we could explain as “property of everyone”. Public domain works are no longer protected by copyright and can be freely distributed, modified, or serve as a base for derivative works.

Creative Commons Licenses

Copyright laws and its obligations is something that has been highly discussed lately, especially in the context of the Internet. Current legislation has many detractors who think intellectual property is overprotected, to a point where it limits culture development and distribution. This has created the environment for the birth of several alternatives, allowing authors to manage their intellectual property differently.

Traditional copyright is no longer the only way to manage the distribution of an author’s work, and some of them decide to publish under a Creative Commons License. Any copyright owner can use these distribution licenses by stating clearly the content is under a Creative Commons License, and specifying which of these licenses exactly he has chosen.

Creative Commons licenses permit a freer distribution of content, less restrictive than traditional intellectual property licenses. In general, they allow other people to copy or distribute the content without having to ask the copyright owner for permission. There are many types of Creative Commons licenses, allowing for diverse structures of content licensing.Content creators can choose from six licenses, offering different levels of protection when reusing content, generating derivative work or for commercial use.