Core Copyright

Copyright essentials for everyday creators

Posts Tagged ‘Paul Goldstein

What Is Copyright?

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This question seems so obvious and simple as to be undeserving of any scholarly attention. “Copyright” has a long history, tracing back to the early 18th century in Britain –- which includes the variants “copy right” and “copy-right” — so the term is not new. Yet this question is important to ask and answer for several reasons.

First, copyright no longer is a backwater discipline relegated to the inspection of nerdy specialists. Instead, it is now central to the everyday activities of most American citizens.

Second, many people –- lawyers and lay persons alike -– often conflate copyright and “intellectual property.”

Third, there are some important theoretical and political considerations that influence definitions of copyright. While these considerations are advanced issues we are more likely to address over on Copycense than here, they are important these days because of the rhetoric and framing that is being used to position copyright law and policy in one direction or another. I will summarize copyright law’s main theories in a future post, and we will devote extensive coverage to the theory of copyright in upcoming articles on Copycense.

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The Difference Between Copyright & Intellectual Property

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Lawyers and lay persons alike often conflate copyright with “intellectual property.” Later, I will attempt to define copyright — a proposition that is a bit more complicated than one may think — but in doing so, it is important to explain what copyright is not. To this end, it is important to explain why copyright is not the same as intellectual property.

It remains a bit surprising that “copyright” and “intellectual property” often are used interchangeably, even by lawyers who practice in one or more areas of intellectual property. In his book Copyright’s Highway, Paul Goldstein tells a story involving the legendary copyright lawyer and professor Alan Latman that captures the frequency with which these two terms are confused.

According to Goldstein, Latman once told a group of intellectual property specialists that most people -– even at times judges –- often do not know the difference between copyrights, patents and trademarks. “When I tell a general practitioner that I am a copyright lawyer, he immediately corrects me: ‘You mean patents!’ He then says, ‘Well, anyway, as a patent lawyer you can copyright a name for me, can’t you?’” The subtle joke is that you cannot receive copyright protection for a name or title (but you can receive trademark protection for a name).

In summary, “intellectual property” is a name that describes a class of several different legal regimes that generally concerns creations of the human mind. Copyright is but one of the legal regimes that fall under the umbrella of intellectual property.

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Written by K Matthew Dames

12/03/2009 at 09:00