Legal Dictionary


Legal Definition of copyright


  1. The exclusive right to produce or reproduce (copy), to perform in public or to publish an original literary or artistic work. Many countries have expanded the definition of a "literary work" to include computer programs or other electronically stored information.

Related terms

Definition of copyright



copyright (usually uncountable; plural copyrights)

  1. (uncountable) The right by law to be the entity which determines who may publish, copy and distribute a piece of writing, music, picture or other work of authorship.
  2. (countable) Such an exclusive right as it pertains to one or more specific works.
  3. (countable) The copyright symbol &copy, a circumscribed C.

    If &copy is the international symbol for copyright, what should we use for the open source symbol?


to copyright (third-person singular simple present copyrights, present participle copyrighting, simple past and past participle copyrighted)

  1. To place under a copyright.
  2. To obtain or secure a copyright for some literary or other artistic work.

See also

Further reading

Copyright is a form of intellectual property that gives the author of an original work exclusive right for a certain time period in relation to that work, including its publication, distribution and adaptation, after which time the work is said to enter the public domain. Copyright applies to any expressible form of an idea or information that is substantive and discrete and fixed in a medium. Some jurisdictions also recognize "moral rights" of the creator of a work, such as the right to be credited for the work. Copyright is described under the umbrella term intellectual property along with patents and trademarks.

The concept of copyright originates with the Statute of Anne (1710) in Great Britain. An example of the intent of copyright, as expressed in the United States Constitution, is "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."

Copyright has been internationally standardized, lasting between fifty to a hundred years from the author's death, or a shorter period for anonymous or corporate authorship. Some jurisdictions have required formalities to establish copyright, but most recognize copyright in any completed work, without formal registration. Generally, copyright is enforced as a civil matter, though some jurisdictions do apply criminal sanctions.

Copyright by country

Copyright laws have been standardized to some extent through international conventions such as the Berne Convention and Universal Copyright Convention. These multilateral treaties have been ratified by nearly all countries, and international organizations such as the European Union or World Trade Organization require their member states to comply with them. Although there are consistencies among nations' intellectual property laws, each jurisdiction has separate and distinct laws and regulations about copyright. The World Intellectual Property Organization summarizes each of its member states' intellectual property laws on its website (see WIPO Guide to Intellectual Property Worldwide and National copyright laws).

The regulations of the Berne Convention are incorporated into the World Trade Organization's TRIPS agreement (1995), thus giving the Berne Convention effectively near-global application. The 2002 WIPO Copyright Treaty enacted greater restrictions on the use of technology to copy works in the nations that ratified it.


  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.


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