PNG images: Copyright

Copyright is a legal right created by the law of a country that grants the creator of an original work exclusive rights for its use and distribution. This is usually only for a limited time. The exclusive rights are not absolute but limited by limitations and exceptions to copyright law, including fair use. A major limitation on copyright is that copyright protects only the original expression of ideas, and not the underlying ideas themselves.

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Copyright is a form of intellectual property, applicable to certain forms of creative work. Some, but not all jurisdictions require "fixing" copyrighted works in a tangible form. It is often shared among multiple authors, each of whom holds a set of rights to use or license the work, and who are commonly referred to as rights holders. These rights frequently include reproduction, control over derivative works, distribution, public performance, and "moral rights" such as attribution.

Copyrights are considered "territorial rights", which means that they do not extend beyond the territory of a specific jurisdiction. While many aspects of national copyright laws have been standardized through international copyright agreements, copyright laws vary by country.

Typically, the duration of a copyright spans the author's life plus 50 to 100 years (that is, copyright typically expires 50 to 100 years after the author dies, depending on the jurisdiction). Some countries require certain copyright formalities to establishing copyright, but most recognize copyright in any completed work, without formal registration. Generally, copyright is enforced as a civil matter, though some jurisdictions do apply criminal sanctions.

Most jurisdictions recognize copyright limitations, allowing "fair" exceptions to the creator's exclusivity of copyright and giving users certain rights. The development of digital media and computer network technologies have prompted reinterpretation of these exceptions, introduced new difficulties in enforcing copyright, and inspired additional challenges to copyright law's philosophic basis. Simultaneously, businesses with great economic dependence upon copyright, such as those in the music business, have advocated the extension and expansion of copyright and sought additional legal and technological enforcement.

Copyright came about with the invention of the printing press and with wider literacy. As a legal concept, its origins in Britain were from a reaction to printers' monopolies at the beginning of the 18th century. The English Parliament was concerned about the unregulated copying of books and passed the Licensing of the Press Act 1662, which established a register of licensed books and required a copy to be deposited with the Stationers' Company, essentially continuing the licensing of material that had long been in effect.

Copyright laws allow products of creative human activities, such as literary and artistic production, to be preferentially exploited and thus incentivized. Different cultural attitudes, social organizations, economic models and legal frameworks are seen to account for why copyright emerged in Europe and not, for example, in Asia. In the Middle Ages in Europe, there was generally a lack of any concept of literary property due to the general relations of production, the specific organization of literary production and the role of culture in society. The latter refers to the tendency of oral societies, such as that of Europe in the medieval period, to view knowledge as the product and expression of the collective, rather than to see it as individual property. However, with copyright laws, intellectual production comes to be seen as a product of an individual, with attendant rights. The most significant point is that patent and copyright laws support the expansion of the range of creative human activities that can be commodified. This parallels the ways in which capitalism led to the commodification of many aspects of social life that earlier had no monetary or economic value per se.

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