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There are many misconceptions (often deliberate ones) about copyright
widely held by many people (who often use them as an excuse for breaking
copyright, claiming that it's "legal"). There are also tons of web pages
explaining these misconceptions already, but I'll nevertheless write my
own. So here are some of the misconceptions:
- "I'm not using this for profit, thus I'm not breaking copyright."
- This is an extremely common misconception and/or excuse. However,
it makes absolutely no difference whether distributing or using copyrighted
material is made for profit or not, it's still copyright infringement.
(If pursued, infringing for profit might result in larger sanctions, but
it makes no difference to the question of whether it's infringement in the
- "It does not have a copyright notification, hence it's not
- This was true in many countries some decades ago, when copyright law
stated that the creator of a work of art had to register the work as
copyrighted before he got the right (and is the reason why eg. some
relatively recent movies are in the public domain, as their authors
fumbled the copyright registration). However, this has not been the case
for a long time anywhere in the world. Copyright is automatic and works
of art do not require copyright notices to be copyrighted.
- "If the owner does not enforce the copyright, he loses it."
- Nope. This is a (perhaps deliberate) confusion with trademarks. Trademarks
are something that have to be explicitly registered and enforced by the
trademark owner. If the owner of the trademark does not enforce it enough,
he might lose his right to the trademark. However, copyright has nothing
to do this, and copyright holds completely regardless of how strongly the
owner enforces it.
- "Fan fiction does not infringe copyright."
- Incorrect. Copyright does not only protect the owner's right to the
original work of art, but also to clear derivatives. Fan fiction using
the same characters, themes, settings and terminology are clear
derivatives and, technically speaking, infringe copyright. (In practice
copyright owners seldom pursue this, but there have been prominent
- "If I declare my own work of art to be in the public domain, then it
has no copyright."
- Perhaps a bit surprisingly, in many jurisdictions copyright is not
something one can "get rid of", even if one wants to. In other words,
automatic copyright means that you have copyright whether you want it
or not. You cannot declare "this work has no copyright". (Most countries
have laws for special exceptions, such as publications made by the
government being public domain. However, they do not recognize an
individual's right to publish something without copyright.) This varies
a lot from country to country, and even inside the same country different
copyright attorneys may have differing opinions on whether declaring one's
work of art as "public domain" removes copyright or not. (What one has to
do to make a work of art free is to publish it under a copyright-based
license that grants those freedoms to the users. "Public domain" is not
such a license.)
But to be fair, there's the other side of the coin, in other words,
copyright holders claiming more rights than they have.
- Game mechanics, the method of playing a game, is not covered by copyright.
In fact, nothing covers it. (In the United States it was possible to
patent such things, but AFAIK it's not possible anylonger.) If you invent
a new game mechanic, it's completely free for anybody to use however they
like. (Copyright only covers the contents/artwork/text/music of the game,
not its game mechanics.) The largest infringer of this is the infamous
- Algorithms, food recipes and similar methods of doing something do not
fall under copyright either, for the same reasons. You can completely
freely eg. copy an entire recipe book and publish it as your own as long
as you use your own wording, layout and images (in other words, copyright
covers those, but not the recipes themselves). Likewise programming
algorithms and mathematical formulas are completely free to be used
by anybody, and copyright does not cover them.
- It varies by jurisdiction, but in most of them making a social commentary,
review or parody of a work of art is not copyright infringement, even if
short segments or parts of the work are used. (The limit of how short those
segments must be before it's too much is up to the courts to decide.)
The only exception to this seems to be music, which has a zero-tolerance
policy in most jurisdictions (for a reason I cannot comprehend).
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