By Geetha Kandiah
Books, music, pictures, videos and other creative works have special intangible rights attached to them, known as “copyright”. These rights are owned by the creators of the work – authors, producers, photographers, musicians, songwriters, artists and such – who can choose to do anything they wish with their exclusive rights.
The copyright owners have the right to prevent others from reproducing their work (or a substantial part) in any material form. The translation, adaptation and transformation of their work can also be prevented, so owners of copyright essentially have broad rights to their pieces of work, which can be exploited in many profitable ways.
The only criterion for a creative work to be eligible for copyright is that there is sufficient effort put into the work to make the work original and the work must be reduced to material form (so they can be “seen” or “heard” by others). Works are eligible for copyright regardless of the quality and the purpose for which they were created.
As the prerequisite for copyright is easily met, almost everyone owns some form of copyright. By gathering my thoughts and writing this article, I own the copyright in this article. Anyone who wants to publish the article would first need my permission. I can either charge the person seeking to use my work a certain fee in return for permission to do so, or provide consent without a fee. Likewise, if anyone wants to translate my work into a different language, my permission is again required. Usage of copyright without the owner’s permission is an unlawful act termed as “copyright infringement”.
What constitutes as copyright infringement?
There are many different ways copyright owners may find their copyright infringed. Infringement of copyright can happen when works – such as paintings, books, computer software, films and music – are reproduced or communicated without permission from the copyright owners.
Unauthorised reproduction and distribution of music content, unauthorised downloading of copyrighted material and sharing of recorded music over the Internet are common types of copyright infringement. Making copies of a book and selling them is also copyright infringement. Taking photos off the web and using them without proper attribution is copyright infringement and so is making prints of a painting.
Infringement can also occur when works such as plays and films are performed or screened without permission from the copyright owner. A person who sells infringing versions of a work, even if somebody else made them, is in breach of copyright as well. In general, any use of an original work created by someone else is off limits without their prior consent. Use without the owners’ consent may cause serious legal implications.
In Malaysia, copyright owners could rely on the Copyright Act 1987 and sue the copycats, claiming for remedies against the copyright infringement. Among the remedies is obtaining an injunction to prohibit future copying or to compensate for loss of sales and damages.
Those in the creative industry – the creators, designers, authors, composers, songwriters, film makers and their investors – should be aware of the special rights subsisting in their creative works. This way, the results of their hard work will be safe (or at least more guarded) from the threat of merciless copycats trying to making a quick fortune off other people’s toil and effort.
So how do those in the creative industry exploit their copyrights?
To maximise its wealth, the creative industry relies on exploiting copyright to the fullest extent. Licenses to use copyright owners’ works and adaptations thereof are common in the book publishing, music, film and TV industries.
A scriptwriter approaches film and TV industry players with his original work in view of sealing a copyright licensing contract, whereas a songwriter or composer will similarly approach a music production or record company with original ideas reduced to musical notes and melodies.
An author of a book might get a publishing house to publish his books and even exploit the creative work further if the book is successful enough and he authorizes a movie studio to produce a movie based on the book.
A famous instance is author J.K. Rowling and her Harry Potter book series, which was turned into a wildly successful series of movies by Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. Her books made her an overnight billionaire and accorded her worldwide fame, which was further catapulted by the movies. In 2010, the Harry Potter theme park at Universal Orlando Resort opened to the public – a further example of how copyright can be capitalised on! The theme park was built by General Electric Co.’s Universal Parks & Resorts (which won the rights after beating Walt Disney Co. to build the theme park) and christened “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter”.
Don’t forget that Bill Gates made and still makes his money from copyright – in computer software. Similarly, Walt Disney characters – Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and the others – have generated a multi-billion dollar business, all based on copyright!
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