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Copyright is the legal right of the creator of work to control the reproduction (the making of copies) of that work, and also to control various uses of the work. In most countries, copyright includes all or most of the following rights:

  • The right to make physical copies of the work;
  • The right to distribute copies of the work;
  • The right to create derivative works: These include
    • Translations
    • Sequels
    • Adaptations (such as making a film from a book)
  • The right of public perfomance (this most often applies to dramatic, visual, and audible works, but can apply to other kinds of work); and
  • The right of public display (most often applies to visual works, but can also apply to other works)

The original copyright owner (usually the creator of the work) can sell or give the copyright, or a part of it, to another, who then becomes the copyright owner. When an employee creates a work as part of his or her employment, the employer may be the original copyright owner. When two or more people create a work jointly, they become joint copyright owners.

Copyright is generally available for only a limited period of time. Currently, in the United States and many other countries, the period is the life of the author plus 70 years, or 95 years for works where the legal author is a corporation, or is not identified. Terms in the past were different, and determining when the copyright of an old work has expired or will expire can be tricky. Also, different laws may apply in different countries.

Currently (in the U.S. and most other countries), the moment a work is created, it is subject to copyright. No publication or copyright notice is required. In the past this was not true.

The Berne Copyright Convention, to which the US and most other countries in the world now adhere, provides minimum standards for copyright, and generally requires that signatories protect foreign works to at least the extent that locally created and published works are protected. it also forbids making such formalities as a copyright notice and copyright registration a condition of copyright protection.

It is illegal make a copy or make use of a work in one of the ways protected by copyright, without the permission of the copyright holder. There are various exceptions — cases where making limited use, or use of a particular kind, may be legal. These exceptions include fair use (or fair dealing) and parody.

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