What Is Copyright?
Copyright law protects original works, such as websites, books, music, paintings, photos and video. A work is “original” if it contains some elements you created and did not borrow from others. Typically, when you create an original work, you own the copyright. As the copyright owner, you can control how others use your work. For example, if you write a movie script, you have the right to, and can prevent others from, copying your script, sharing it with others (“distributing it”), making a movie or book from your script (a “derivative work”), or publicly performing your script as a play or movie. You also have the ability to sell or give away these rights. In other words, you could sell the right to make a movie based on your script to a movie studio.
If you use someone else’s copyrighted materials without permission, that use generally violates the copyright owner's exclusive rights, and is copyright infringement. So if you create a new work and include parts of other people’s works in it (such as an existing photo, lengthy quotes from a book or a loop from a song), you must own or have permission to use the elements you borrow. For example, if your script is based on an existing popular series, you should obtain permission to use the elements you borrow from the series.
Copyright law is different from the law of personal property. If you buy a physical object, such as a movie on DVD, you own the physical object. You do not, however, obtain ownership of the “copyrights” (the rights to make copies, distribute, make derivatives and publicly perform or display) in the content of the movie. The fact that you have obtained physical possession of a DVD does not automatically grant you the right to copy or share it.
If you make your own movie, it may include many copyrighted works in it. So, if you decide to make a movie based on your script, you must either create all elements of it on your own, or have permission to use the elements you borrow. Especially keep in mind that photos or artwork hanging on the walls of your sets and music on the soundtrack (even if you own the CD or MP3) may be copyrighted. You should not include copyrighted works such as these in your movie without authorization.
A few other things to keep in mind are:
• Just because a work does not include a copyright notice (e.g., Copyright © 2010 University of North America. All rights reserved.) does not mean the work is in the public domain. Copyright notices are generally not required for works to be protected by copyright.