Creative expression is one of humanity’s greatest gifts. It offers a channel for thoughts and emotions when words fall short. In music, literature, art, and photography, individuals find solace, understanding, and coping mechanisms. The protection of these creations lies within copyright law, a safeguard ensuring that artists, writers, photographers, and creators maintain ownership and control over their work.

Under United States copyright law, creators possess a set of six exclusive rights aimed at safeguarding their creative endeavors. This legal framework aims to promote progress in the arts by granting creators exclusive rights over their works. These rights extend throughout the creator’s lifetime and 70 years beyond their death, after which the work enters the public domain.

Upon the fixation of their work in a tangible form, such as recorded melodies or handwritten lyrics, creators immediately hold legal ownership. However, registering their copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office offers additional protection, including the ability to pursue infringement suits in federal court.

Those six exclusive rights include: 

1. The Right to Reproduce

The first exclusive right granted to creators is the reproduction of their work. This encompasses physical manifestations such as sheet music, CDs, or vinyl pressings. Additionally, obtaining a mechanical license allows others to record the song, provided they pay the appropriate royalties.

2. The Right to Create Derivative Works

Derivative works, the second exclusive right, entail creations based on existing works. Examples include parody lyrics set to well-known songs or remixes of original compositions. This right can be licensed to others for use, expanding the work’s reach and potential revenue streams.

3. The Right to Distribute Physical Copies

The distribution of copies to the public constitutes the third exclusive right, separate from reproduction but similarly licensed through mechanical or compulsory licenses. Mechanical royalties, typically collected through agencies like the Harry Fox Agency, ensure creators receive compensation for each copy produced, regardless of sales.

4. The Right to Perform Publicly

Public performance rights, the fourth exclusive right, enable creators to control public performances of their work. Performing rights organizations such as BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC collect and distribute royalties for public performances, ensuring creators receive compensation for each use.

5. The Right to Display Publicly

Display rights, the fifth exclusive right, govern the public display of works in various media, including commercials, movies, and video games. Synchronization licenses authorize the use of music in visual media, with agreements negotiated between producers and music supervisors.

6. The Right to Distribute via Digital Audio Transmission

The Digital Performance Right in Sound Recordings Act of 1995 introduced the sixth exclusive right, covering distribution via digital audio transmissions. This necessitates digital mechanical royalties, addressing the rise of digital music consumption through streaming platforms.

Understanding and enforcing these exclusive rights are crucial for creators to thrive in their respective fields. With legal protections in place, artists can confidently pursue their creative passions, contributing to a world enriched by their imagination and ingenuity.