Copyright is part of a category of legal protection called intellectual property rights that aims to protect ideas. Copyright confers some legal rights on the creator of an artistic work to limit reproduction and monetary gain by others. Copyright and other types of intellectual property rights are intended as an incentive and reward to develop ideas.
Copyright is a legal title given to the creator of an artistic, literary, musical, theatrical, architectural or similar work. Copyright is automatic, but registering a work with the Copyright Office provides an extra layer of legal protection. The holder of the copyright has the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, promote, adapt and sell the work. In the U.S., a copyright is valid for the creator's life plus 50 years.
Intellectual Property Rights
Intellectual property rights protect ideas, whether they have an industrial application (patents), a marketing purpose (trademarks) or are artistic in nature (copyright). The principle of intellectual property rights comes from the theory that one of the main functions of a government is to protect private property. Intellectual property rights are intended to foster economic and social development in a society by protecting the products of certain kinds of work in the same way that government protects physical property.
The point of intellectual property rights is to promote business, research and development by assuring creators that their efforts will be rewarded by an exclusive right that prohibits others from copying and unfairly benefiting from their work. The U.S. has some of the strongest intellectual property right protections in the world.
Working with Copyright Material
The benefits of copyright may not be apparent when a business wishes to use copyright material it does not own. In such circumstances, copyright can seem legally cumbersome, expensive and unnecessary (to work with such material, a business entity must get a license from the copyright holder, which can be expensive). Economists and policy makers do debate whether intellectual property can stunt development in some situations, but the overall consensus is that it helps more than it hurts.
Some argue that strict enforcement of intellectual property rights can actually harm business development by placing undue restraints on how people can use and improve upon another's ideas. The open-source movement--which advocates for free use of digital materials, especially on the Internet and with other communication technology--is one advocate of this position. However, most economists, lawyers and policy makers favour strict enforcement a way to protect the creator's profit, arguing that protection ultimately provides more money for investment and hence more incentives for firms and individuals to continue developing ideas.