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What Rights are Protected by Copyright Law?

Copyright law provides creators with two broad groups of rights: economic rights and moral rights.

A. Economic Rights

Copyright law protects creators of original works by granting creators the sole right to produce or reproduce any substantial part of the work in any form, to perform the work in public or, if the work is unpublished, to publish the work or any substantial part of it. This means that copyright owners have the exclusive right to control the translation of a work into another language, the adaptation of a work into another form, the communication of a work, the recording of a work, and the public performance of a work.

B. Moral Rights

Even if the creator sells copyright in the work to someone else (i.e. control over the publication and reproduction of the work and the right to receive remuneration), he or she retains moral rights in the work. The work cannot be distorted, mutilated, or otherwise modified in a way that is prejudicial to the creator’s reputation or honour. Unlike economic rights, moral rights are personal to the creator, and thus cannot be sold or given away. However, moral rights can be waived by written agreement, e.g., not to exercise the rights. Specific moral rights include:

  • the right to prohibit the use of a work in association with a product, cause, or institution in a way that would be prejudicial to the creator’s reputation or honour;
  • the right to protect the integrity of the work in order to prevent modifications that would be prejudicial to the creator’s reputation or honour;
  • the right to be associated with a work as its creator;
  • the right of the creator to use a pseudonym in association with the work; and
  • the right of the creator to remain anonymous.

Authorization to Exercise Rights

The copyright owner has the exclusive right to authorize others to exercise any of his or her rights. Anyone who authorizes the performance of an act that is the exclusive right of the copyright owner, absent a license to do so, infringes the rights of the copyright owner and can be held liable therefore. Authorization may be either express or implied. If someone made copying equipment available, and knew that it was regularly used to infringe copyright, and showed a manifest indifference to that infringement, then a court might well conclude that the person had implicitly authorized the use of that equipment for copyright infringement. For example, York University might be held liable for copyright infringement committed by members of the University community using copiers located on its premises, if a court concluded that York was indifferent to how they were used. Therefore, York University places warning signs on copiers, and tries to educate the community in other ways, in order to make it clear that York does not authorize copyright infringement.