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What constitutes copyright infringement?

When a California resident creates an original work that has been presented in a fixed state, meaning you have recorded it in a tangible way such as written, photographed or otherwise physically documented, obtaining a copyright allows for that work to be protected. However, that is not to say copyright infringement will not occur. But what, exactly, constitutes infringement?

According to Title 17 of the U.S. Copyright Law, one way infringement can occur is when a person who is not the originator creates a copy or reproduction of the work in question. Derivatives of the original work can also constitute copyright infringement, such as working from your original in order to create a new piece. Distortions, recreating with different mediums and using your work as a subsection of a new creation may all qualify as infringements.

Infringement may occur if your copyrighted piece is given away or sold for the first time by a person who does not hold the copyright. Displaying the work or performing it sans permission of the copyright owner may also qualify.

Infringement can also occur if the artist’s moral rights are considered to have been violated. This happens in instances where the work relates to you, as the artist, in a personal manner or has a reputational impact. In these cases, even if you no longer own the copyright, altering or revising the work in a way that reflects poorly on you may not be allowed.

Copyright infringement can be full of blurry lines with various forms of defense considered. Therefore, this post is meant as an educational resource only and not intended to be used as a subtitute for legal counsel.

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