Basic Copyright Law Notes

The Constitution of the United States (Article I, Section 8, Clause 8) makes the copyright a matter of federal law. Copyright law, enacted by the U.S. Congress, is administered as a function of the Library of Congress under the Librarian of Congress. Ministerial responsibility for the examination and registration of copyright claims is vested in the U.S. Copyright Office under the direction of the Register of Copyrights. Copyright administrative issues related to the refusal or limitation of copyright claims may be reviewed by the Copyright Office Board of Appeals. Unlike the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences and the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board of the Patent and Trademark Office, the Copyright Office Board of Appeals does not adjudicate issues of copyright interferences between claimants. Matters of copyright law, including appeals from board decisions, are decided in U.S. Federal Courts. However, the Licensing Division of the Copyright Office, which administers the compulsory licenses required by the copyright statutes, arbitrates royalty rate and payment issues related to those licenses by means of the Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panels — so named, apparently, more for the acronym CARP than for any sense of meaning.

The United States Code:

The federal laws of the United States are set down in the United States Code. The part of the Code that contains the copyright statutes is Title 17, the “Copyright Act” (17 USC).

The Code of Federal Regulations

The regulations under which the copyright law is administered in the Library of Congress are set out in the Code of Federal Regulations. Title 37 of the Code (37CFR), “Patent s, Trademarks, and Copyrights,” deals with intellectual property. Chapter II, Subchapter A, deals with the administration of copyright registration and recordation, and Subchapter B sets out the rules and procedures for the CARP.

Court Decisions and Case Law

Information about federal court decisions relating to copyrights will be found in the various federal court reporters. Many of these cites, particularly records of cases since 1995, may be available on the Web through the U.S. Court Finder. Many of the federal court decisions dealing with patent, trademark, and copyright matters, in particular, are reported in volumes of the United States Patent Quarterly (USPQ). Timely summaries of those issues are also reported in a number of periodical publications, such as the Patent, Trademark & Copyright Journal published by The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. (BNA).