A Guide to the Basics of Copyright Laws

By Grace Hamburger on Mar 2, 2020
eContent Pro
A Guide to the Basics of Copyright Laws

Do you find yourself scratching your head at the complex jargon of copyright laws in publishing? How does a Creative Commons license work with your copyright? What does a public domain mean? How is the fair use doctrine able to circumvent copyright laws? Sometimes it can feel like you need to be a lawyer to understand exactly what you’re signing up for. eContent Pro sympathizes with this struggle and is here to help you break down your copyrights.


As we covered in a previous blog, a copyright is the legal right to copy and distribute art, music, literature, and any other form of intellectual works. These rights are automatically retained by the author, but it is becoming more common for an author to sign their rights away when the work is published. Once a copyright is forfeited, an author can no longer reproduce, distribute, display, or perform their work publicly without the publisher’s approval. Though it can be difficult for an author to retain their copyright, it is not impossible, and a popular addition to a copyright which may help authors retain their rights is a Creative Commons license.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that provides authors with options to share and use their creative works on their terms. Researchers often believe that Creative Commons is an alternative to a copyright, but they work closely with a copyright to meet both the publisher’s and author’s expectations. This organization works hard to ensure that authors can pick and choose what rights they would like to retain and which they feel they can lose. They call this approach “Some Rights Reserved,” a reflection of a copyright’s “All Rights Reserved.” Work covered under a Creative Commons license must always be linked to an author.

Public Domain

While a Creative Commons license requires a work is always attributed to an author, public domain has no restrictions. Public domain applies to work that has never been copyrighted, as well as work where the copyright has expired, work that is produced by the US Government, work that isn’t fixed in a physical form, and work that isn’t original. Anything that is considered public domain can be used whenever, wherever, meaning users don’t need permission or to provide compensation to the original owner. Just because a work is public domain in the USA does not mean that it has the same copyright status in other countries, so it is important to keep an eye out.

Fair Use

Copyright laws protect your work from being used without your express permission, but there are situations where an outside party does not need it. Under the fair use doctrine, intellectual property can be used without permission from the copyright holder under specific circumstances. The most common example of fair use applies to parody as well as news reporting, teaching, commentary, and criticism. A fine line exists between using a copyrighted material as reference and committing plagiarism, and unfortunately, there is no exact formula for how much use is too much. Therefore, each application of fair use is evaluated on a case-by-case basis to determine how much of the work is used, why the work is being used, and how it impacts the market for the original work.

Copyright laws can be complicated and understanding your options as an author is key in making the right decisions for your manuscript. Have you been shopping for a publication to submit to? Before you take the leap, let eContent Pro thoroughly analyze your manuscript and find journals that pair perfectly for submission using our Journal Recommendation service!

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