Copyright Basics

Copyright is a property right granting the creator of a work a limited number of exclusive rights with respect to their work. In many legal systems, copyright is known as "author's right" (if translated literally, e.g. from French, German, and Spanish), and this emphasises the perception of copyright as a human right of the creator. Whilst copyright protection depends on national legislation, some core principles can be found in many jurisdictions around the world, as they stem from international treaties in the area of copyright.

Historically, the first right protected by copyright is literally just that: the right to copy and conversely, the right of the author to authorise - or prevent - others from copying. Other restricted acts can include the right to distribute, adapt, broadcast, cablecast and, in many jurisdictions, the right to make available to the public. All these rights can be authorised by the copyright owner, e.g. by way of agreement, often in the form of a license.

Copyright is usually granted to the author of a work in recognition for his original creative efforts; in most countries a work attracts copyright in the moment of its fixation, independent of any registration or other formality. This means that a literary or artistic work is subject to copyright as soon as it is written down, drawn, painted or photographed. Rough handwritten notes and pencil sketches are just as much protected as a finished book or a painting in a gallery. It is always the manifestation of a creative effort that is protected by copyright, and never the idea itself.

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