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Copyright facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
Copyright symbol.

A copyright is a law that gives the owner of a written document, musical composition, book, picture, or other creative work, the right to decide what other people can do with it. Copyright laws make it easier for authors to make money by selling their works. Because of copyright, a work can only be copied if the owner of the copyright gives permission.

When someone copies or edits a work that is protected under copyright without permission, the owner may sue for the value of the violation. Most such cases are handled by civil law. In more serious cases, a person who copies a work that is protected under copyright could be arrested, fined or even go to prison.

Who owns copyright?

In most countries, authors automatically own the copyright to any work they make or create, as long as they do not give the copyright to someone else.

In most countries, there is no need to register the copyright, and some countries do not even have procedures to register copyrights. But, where registration is available, many authors register anyway, especially for works that are sold for money. That is because registration helps to prove that the copyright of a work belongs to a certain author.

If an author gets paid to make a work for someone else, the person who pays for making the work (for example, the author's employer) will often get to own the copyright instead of the author him/herself. For example, if a person working for a company like Microsoft creates a new computer software program at work, the Microsoft company would own the copyright.

Length of copyright protection

Copyright laws usually protect owners of copyright beyond their lifetime, such as until 50 years after the author's death. In some countries this period has been extended to 70 years. When the period of copyright protection has ended, the written document, musical composition, book, picture, or other creative work is in the public domain. This means that no one owns the copyright and everyone is free to copy, use and change them without having to ask for permission or pay the owner.

Fair use

Copyright does not prohibit all copying or replication. There is an exception to the rules of copyright, called fair use. This means that people can copy a very small amount of a work to use in reviews or in research reports. Limited copying for educational purposes could also be justified under the fair dealing exemption.

An example of fair use is when newspaper writers quote several sentences from a copyright-protected document to tell the story. Another example of "fair use" is when a university professor quotes several sentences from a copyright-protected book in a review of the book, or in a research report. Also, it is OK for a teacher to copy material onto a blackboard or an interactive whiteboard under this exception. And it is OK for students to copy that material into their notebooks or laptops.

Using copyrighted pictures in unpublished school work, as long as the source is cited (e.g. Google or Kiddle images) also falls under the rule of fair use.

According to the US Copyright law, making 10 copies or more is considered to be commercial, but there is no general rule permitting such copying. Indeed, making copies for commercial purposes is not fair use.

EU copyright laws recognise the right of EU member states to implement some national exceptions to copyright. Examples of those exceptions are:

  • photographic reproductions on paper or any similar medium of works (excluding sheet music) provided that the rightholders receives fair compensation;
  • reproduction made by libraries, educational establishments, museums or archives, which are non-commercial;
  • archival reproductions of broadcasts;
  • uses for the benefit of people with a disability;
  • for demonstration or repair of equipment;
  • for non-commercial research or private study;
  • when used in parody.

Accessible copies

It is legal in several countries including the United Kingdom and the United States to produce alternative versions (for example, in large print or braille) of a copyrighted work to provide improved access to a work for blind and visually impaired people without permission from the copyright holder.

Copyright in different countries

Different countries have different copyright laws. Most of the differences are about:

  • whether or not the government's work falls under copyright,
  • how much longer copyright lasts after the author dies or after the work is created or published, and
  • what is and what is not fair use.

Because of these differences, a certain piece of work may be under copyright in one country, and in the public domain in another.

Problems with copyright


Some people argue that copyright laws make it easier for people to make new works and think of new ideas. After all, if authors get to make money for the time, effort and money they put in, then they will want to make more works later, and make more money.

But others believe that copyright laws make it harder to be creative. Without copyright, other people could reuse existing work, and copyright law often stops that.

Publisher control

If an author wants to sell a work, it's often easiest to give the copyright to a publisher. The publisher will do all the selling, and in return for that service, will keep part of the money. But the publisher has many different things to sell, and they may not want to sell the work the author made. Authors often find it very hard to find a publisher willing to sell their work.

But without a publisher, it can be even harder for an author to sell his or her work. In many markets, a few big publishers own the copyrights to almost everything available, and stores will not want to sell works published by small authors themselves. Many people say copyright law helps big publishers stay in control, and keeps smaller authors out of the market. (tragedy of the anticommons).

Open content

As a solution to these problems, groups of authors have come up with the idea of open content. With open content, authors give everyone permission to copy, change and give away or sell their works, as long as they follow certain rules. These rules are explained in an open content license. Some possible open content rules are:

  1. If a person changes the work, or if a person makes a new derivative work based on it, they must give the original author credit (they must say who wrote it).
  2. If a person publishes the changed or derivative piece of work, they must let others use it under the same free license.
  3. Under some licenses, a person cannot sell the piece of work or use it to make money.

The term for Open Content is sometimes Copyleft.

Related pages

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See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Copyright para niños

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Copyright Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.