Though definitions may vary from country to country, in the U.S., a copyright is understood as “[a] right granted by statute to the author or originator of certain literary or artistic productions, whereby he is invested, for a limited period, with the sole and exclusive privilege of multiplying copies of the same and publishing and selling them.” In re Rider, 16 R.I. 271 (R.I. 1888); Mott Iron Works v. Clow, 83 F. 316, 318 (7th Cir. 1897); Palmer v. De Witt, 47 N.Y. 532 (N.Y. 1872); 7 Am. Rep. 480; Keene v. Wheatley, 14 F. Cas. 180 (C.C.E.D. Pa. 1861).
The purpose of copyright law is to stimulate creation and dissemination of as many works of authorship as possible, in order to benefit the public. It accomplishes this objective by giving creators limited rights in their works. Copyright is limited to an author's particular method of expressing an idea. In other words, it never gives rights in the idea being expressed, or in facts other elements of the public domain that the author may have incorporated into the work.
While rights guaranteed under copyright may be limited, this field of law does focus on granting authors economic rights in their works. For instance, if the common law of personal property could be said to protect rights in tangible embodiments of works of authorship (e.g., manuscripts and canvases), copyright, by contrast, protects the intangible expression itself. Thus, a transfer of the physical embodiment of a work of authorship would not transfer the copyright. A separate writing is required to transfer copyright.
Moreover, as a matter of economic right, the owner of copyright in a work has the exclusive right to do or authorize the reproduction of the copyrighted work; prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work; distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work to the public; publicly perform the work; publicly display the work; and in the case of sound recordings, perform the copyrighted work publicly by means of digital audio transmission.
Furthermore, in the case of visual arts, the artist has the right to claim authorship in the work; to prevent use of his or her name as the author of works he or she did not create; to prevent use of his or her name as the author of his or her own work if the work has been distorted, mutilated, or otherwise modified so that the use would be prejudicial to his or her honor or reputation; to prevent any intentional distortion, mutilation, or other modification of his or her work that would be prejudicial to his or her name or reputation; and to prevent the intentional or grossly negligent destruction of the work if the work is of recognized stature.
Please contact a lawyer if you feel that your exclusive economic rights to authorship had been violated. To demonstrate copyright infringement, it must appear that: (1) the defendant's work was copied from the plaintiff's; and (2) that the works are substantially similar in their expression, so that the copying amounts to an unlawful appropriation. It would appear simple at first glance, however, your rights and the case will be subject to limitations and defenses (e.g., fair use). You will have a better chance at protecting your economic rights to authorship by hiring professional.
Please note that this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. If you have questions regarding your particular situation, please contact a qualified attorney.