This post is part of a series of posts entitled A Legal Guide to the Internet. For a comprehensive list of articles contained in this series, click here.

If you transmit images via the Internet or allow for such transmission, you may also be considered a publisher of copyrighted material. As noted above, many different types of materials may be protected by copyright, including audiovisual works, musical compositions, sound recordings, visual art, photographs, graphics, animation, databases and computer programs. Such copyrightable materials are used throughout the Internet.

The creators of these original works of authorship retain the exclusive rights to:

  1. make copies
  2. prepare derivative works
  3. distribute the copies of the work
  4. publicly perform literary, musical, dramatic, choreographic, pantomime, motion picture, and other audiovisual works
  5. publicly display literary, musical, dramatic, choreographic, pantomime, pictorial, graphical, sculptural, and individual images of audiovisual works
  6. publicly perform sound recordings through digital audio transmission

These rights exist even without federal registration of the copyright. The right to prevent copying may be infringed as the Internet creates electronic access to copyrighted material, allowing reproduction of such materials to occur. For example:

  • Copyrighted material may be copied into the memory of a computer
  • A printed document may be converted into a digital film
  • Photographs, motion video and sound recordings may be converted into digital form
  • A digital file may be uploaded or downloaded to a bulletin board system or other server
  • A file may be transferred from one user on a network to another
  • Browsing a document that resides on a web site may require the creation of a copy to display the information on another computer screen
  • Audio or audiovisual files may be transmitted
  • Web sites may be cached, which creates copies of a web page and its content

All of the above might be construed as an infringement of the exclusive right of the copyright owner to make copies of and distribute their work. On the Internet, however, where an unlimited number of copyrighted materials can be made instantaneously available to a large number of people around the world, and each of these people can interact with and manipulate that material quickly and easily, it is difficult to enforce the copyright laws. At the same time, virtually every transmission on the Internet is likely to implicate some right of copyright owners, because copies of material can be made and distributed continually without explicit permission. To protect copyrights, many web sites contain explicit statements that restrict copying and require information to be used for personal use only. (For a discussion of web site disclaimers and notices see this post entitled Contracts Web Site Disclaimers and Notices).

This and the following posts have been copied or adopted from A Legal Guide To The INTERNET – Sixth Edition, published through a collaborative effort by the Minnesota Department of Employment & Economic Development and Merchant & Gould.