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See also: Legal Analysis, Intellectual Property, Fair Use, DMCA, Cease & Desist, Creative Commons, Piracy
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Copyright is a term that refers to the set of exclusive rights granted to a creator of an original work.

Copyright applies to a wide variety of creative works including literary works, film, musical works, artistic works and many other kinds of Intellectual Property. Copyright holders (the original creator and their heirs) may sell or license certain rights, thereby authorizing others to broadcast or distribute a work. Copyright applies to the expression of an idea, never the idea itself.[1]

Copyright is time-limited, by varying lengths depending on the type of work and the jurisdiction. Once the copyright has expired, a work is considered to be part of the Public Domain.[2] The U.S. copyright laws require twenty years to pass for every one year of copyrighted work to enter public domain, so that in 2019, works created in 1923 will be released. The last such mass expiration of copyright in the U.S., allowing works from 1922, was in 1998. Mary Rasenberger, executive director of the Authors Guild, is quoted as saying, "There comes a point when a creative work belongs to history as much as to its author and her heirs." Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive, points out that the bizarre law means that "the 20th century is largely missing from the internet."[3]

Copyright also varies from country to country - something that is Public Domain in one country may not be in another.

Fans on Copyright

For more information about fanworks and how copyright affects them, see Legal Analysis. The Organization for Transformative Works also have more information. Fanvids are also affected by the DMCA if they need to rip from DVD.

Fans have traditionally suffered from Cease & Desist notices. A more recent development has been Creative Commons licenses which support remixing and fanworks. Some professional authors have different fanfic policies, though these may vary in their legal effect.

Some Random Fannish Reaction

  • "Note to contributors: the copyright symbol with your name and date copyrights your work in your name. I don't bother to register copyrights; If you want to, get a Bowker Handbook from the library and go to it." [4]

Further Reading/Meta

See Timeline of Fanwork Copyright and Legality Meta.


  1. ^ WIPO General Information on Copyright, accessed May 6, 2010
  2. ^ Wikipedia:Copyright#Public_domain
  3. ^ Glenn Fleischmann, "For the First Time in More Than 20 Years, Copyrighted Works Will Enter the Public Domain." Smithsonian, January 2019.
  4. ^ from the editor in R & R #16, 1981