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Copyright Basics

What is a copyright?
A copyright is the legal protection given in the United States to original works of authorship. Copyrights protect books, paintings, photos, music, video, software and so forth. Copyright protection attaches to a work the moment it is fixed in tangible form (on paper, on video,. etc.) and prevents others from using the work without permission.

Copyright is a bundle of rights
A copyright is a bundle of rights, including the exclusive right to distribute, sell, duplicate, publicly perform, and create derivative works from the work. Copyright for newer works lasts for at least 70 years, depending upon whether the author is a person or a company. The length of copyright protection for older works is often difficult to determine.The fact that a work is old doesn't necessarily mean that the copyright on it has expired. Until the end of the term of protection, a copyright owner has the right to sell, transfer, assign, or license one or all of these exclusive rights to someone else.

Copyright registrations and markings
In the United States, you do not need to register a copyright in order to benefit from copyright protections, although you may have to register your copyright if you want to file a legal action concerning your copyright. It is also not necessary to place a © on the copyrighted work, but it is a good idea to do so. The absence of a © doesn't mean it’s okay to copy a work without permission.

Resale of copyrighted works
Under the copyright laws, the owner of a particular copy of a copyrighted work is generally entitled to resell the particular copy they own. For example, if you purchase a copy of a DVD movie, you are allowed to resell that particular DVD. Copyright protection prevents you from copying the DVD movie and reselling the copies. If you have licensed the right to use a particular copyrighted item, you should review the license and consult with your attorney to determine whether you can resell the item.

Selling versus giving away an item
Copyright protection includes the exclusive right to distribute the copyrighted work. This usually means that giving away an unauthorized copy of a copyrighted work (for example a duplicated copy of a videocassette) is not permitted. Thus, selling a pencil for $5.00, and including for "free" an unauthorized DVD copy would probably be against the law.

Rights of publicity
Similarly, putting someone’s face, image, name or signature on a product being sold is prohibited by California's "Right of Publicity" law and some privacy laws. Thus, using a celebrity’s photograph for a commercial purpose may violate that celebrity's right of publicity, even if the picture was taken by the seller and the seller owns the copyright.

The Berne Convention?
The Berne Convention itself is not U.S. law and does not excuse activity which otherwise would violate U.S. copyright law. The Berne Convention is an international treaty signed by the United States in 1989. By signing the Berne Convention, the U.S. committed to making certain changes to its copyright law.

*This information is not intended to be legal advice. If you have any doubts about whether you can sell an item on eBay, we encourage you to contact the copyright owner or consult your own attorney.

Violations of this policy may result in a range of actions, including:

  • Listing cancellation

  • Limits on account privileges

  • Account suspension

  • Forfeit of eBay fees on cancelled listings

  • Loss of PowerSeller status

Some Examples

Sellers would violate a copyright protection and the law by doing any of the following:

  • Burning copies of a DVD movie and reselling the copies (unless the seller owns the copyright)

  • Photocopying a book and reselling the copies (unless the seller owns the copyright)

  • Altering and reselling a copyrighted painting or photograph

Additional Information
Why does eBay have this policy?

eBay urges its sellers and buyers to comply with all governmental laws and regulations. The unauthorized sale of copyrighted items is illegal as well as against eBay policy. Sellers who are unsure of the legality of their items should not sell these items on eBay. This policy helps protect buyers from purchasing counterfeit and unauthorized merchandise, and helps intellectual property rights owners protect their rights.

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