copyright and related rights

Copyright and exclusive rights to use

From print to the consumer, the concept of ownership of literal material is a legend. Copyright protection evolved from traditional print to present-day internet production. The on-line publication and extended rights given to persons that create new material out of original material also created another form of rights. These, the law regards as ‘Neighbouring/related rights’.

For instance, if XXX writes lyrics, YYY produces the lyrics and ZZZ sings the lyrics, each has their distinct copyright protection.

XXX will have moral rights to the lyrics (as the author), YYY will have neighbouring rights as the sound producer (owning the beats) and ZZZ will have the vocal rights (owning the sound) to the same song. If XXX sells the economic rights to YYY or ZZZ, the latter will have only that: economic rights. YYY still has the authorship rights and must be quoted as the original author/writer/creator of the lyrics.

There are circumstances where YYY contracts XXX to write the lyrics. XXX’s authorship does not change. Only economic rights and the right of distribution may vary, according to their agreement/contract.

This arrangement is more pertinent in developed countries where an artistic product has several persons adding value to the same work.

Definition of Copyrights

The definition varies.

Copyright is an exclusive right or form of permission to reproduce, publish or sell or display original work. Originality is in the expression, not necessary the thought. Poetry, for instance is in everyday diction. But how it is written or expressed is what is original and unique and protected.

The protection involves exclusive rights to use, distribute and earn from against copiers/pirates.

Protection is legal in understanding. However, it can also be understood as a way of awarding the author exclusive right, entitlement or freedom to exploit his/her creativity and earn from it. Earning is usually reputable and often or less likely economic. In most cases, authors of works do not earn as much from their creations. They will give certain agencies the economic rights to sell on their behalf while they agree on sharing the profits.

What is important to know is that copyright protection is a form of intellectual property protection to literary original works in a tangible form. It is ‘intellectual property’ because it involves use of the mind to create a unique work identified with the creator. As long as the author used ‘skill, labour and judgment’ in creating the work, it is unique. ‘Judgment’ is in terms of commercial application.

Works like art, drawings, books, music, films, music, etc. which express artistic impression will be attached to their original authors.

NB: What is in your mind is not protected because nobody has the powers to tell what is locked inside your brain. However, if you record or keep in any form, it is protected. The record is the only proof that you are the author of that material.

Recording material is in various forms. It can take the form of print, ink (written), digital or audio.

The work may be published or unpublished.

The two types of rights under Copyright

These are ‘moral’ and ‘economic’ rights.

Moral rights are actual authorship rights. Creators of literal, dramatic, musical and artistic works in original form have the protection the Copyright law gives. These rights can never extinguish. They last a lifetime.

Economic rights, on the other hand involve the ‘money effect’ derived from the works created. The author may have both moral and economic rights where he/she authors the works, produces it and distributes it.

Because the economy evolves, specialization forces authors to contract services from providers. A publishing house will have economic rights to a design book drawn by a fashion designer who allows the house to format the book preview, print the book and distribute the sales.

Peculiar scenarios in Copyright

The common scenario is the ‘work made for hire’ contract which most companies employ. A company will contract a talented worker to create something in the course of that employment. The work derived therein is not the creator’s but the company’s since the latter is the body that directed the work to begin.

The law looks at the company as the originator of the work and the employer as the physical instrument that made the work tangible.

Transferring exclusive rights

To transfer is to authorise another to use, distribute, perform, or display original works.

The process involves contracts, agreements or memorandums of understanding that express the extent of rights. Having a contract enables each party to know the limits of either but most importantly the author knows the extent of exclusivity. That way, the author can claim infringement if the other party goes beyond the agreed perimeters.

Registering copyright varies in each jurisdiction. In some countries like the United States of America, authors can register their works via electronic methods. In East Africa, Copyright registration is mostly documented and involves some paperwork which you can avoid by having a Copyright Attorney handle for you.

Next week, we skim through infringement of Copyright and moral rights


This article appears in our digital law newsletter, The Deuteronomy Vol 5, Issue 1 of May 5th, 2017

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