Over the next couple of days I'll be posting about US Copyright and how it pertains to crafting. I'm trying to break it into manageable chunks, and I'm wishing like hell that this blog software had a cut tag feature. Alas. Alack. All parts to this will be tagged as "copyright" so that you can find them again later on if you need them.
So, remember when I decided to slog through the US Copyright Law document? Yeah, ok, I'll admit it. I didn't make it through the whole 230 pages. More like 50. At that point I started looking up stuff on the web where someone else would translate it into English for me. My Lawyerese is not so good.
I'll tell you what I know. I'll tell you how that applies to this site. And then I'll tell you my sources. Ok? Stick with me, it's long.
Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. This is not legal advice. Go find yourself a lawyer if you run into copyright problems. What I say pertains to the United States copyright law since that's where Renee and I live and work.
1. What is copyright?
It's not a compound noun for nothing, folks. Copyright is having the right to make copies of something.
2. What is copyrightable?
Things in tangible format are copyrightable. (Text, obviously, but also video, music, design, etc.) Ideas are not copyrightable. So, I can say, "Hrm... I bet I could make a doll if I started with the basics of making a glove, but gave it two thumbs and only two fingers." But if I never write down the pattern for that doll, five people can then rush out and make up their own way to do it without infringing on anyone's rights. We can all even write patterns down and they will not be infringing on each other, so long as each person did their own work.
But here's the catch: If you do not register a copyright, you can't sue for damages. You can write C&D letters, and you can even take someone to court to have the court order them to C&D without registering, but you can't get money from the jerk who's been making money off your material. This makes registering very attractive, but it's a little expensive for your average Jane Crafter.
4. What's the difference between a trademark and copyright?
Compound noun, folks. A trademark is an identifying mark put on an item that is available for sale (trade). Copyright is having the right to make copies of something. Can a trademark be copyrighted? Maybe? It makes sense to me, but I'm not a lawyer and I never saw anything about this. Maybe Jenna (aka Girl From Auntie; see Resources) would know the answer to this.
5. How do you share copyright?
There are many ways to share copyright. First of all, you can straight out give or sell your copyright to someone else. When this happens, it's like signing away your parental rights. The new copyright holder can do anything with it that they please - publish it, sell it, give it away, change it, ignore it, line a birdcage with it.... you get the idea. Since money is usually involved (or the potential to make money), copyright owners are often loathe to transfer their rights to someone else. This brings us to the most popular way to share copyright: licensing.
Licenses allow a copyright owner to give temporary rights to their copyrighted material to other people. Licenses can be sold or given away freely. The copyright owner can specify which certain rights the licensee may use. For example, a copyright owner may allow you to distribute their work to anyone and via any medium so long as you agree to not charge for the work. If you begin to charge each person you give the work to so much as $0.01, you have violated the terms of the license and the owner can take legal action against you. (Refer back to #3 - if the copyright is not registered, the kind of legal action they can take is limited.)
If the copyright owner is not a large corporation, you'd be amazed to find how many owners will let your use their work if you just ask them first. It never hurts to ask. The worst they can do is say "no," and then you're no worse off than you were before.