Copyright and Art-Making
Who Owns the Copyright? Generally, the person who created the artistic expression is the owner of the copyright. For example, the painter owns the rights to the painting he created. The person who wrote the letter is the copyright owner, not the recipient of the letter. However, sometimes the person who created the work is not the rights holder because of a contract or employment situation. Please read employment contracts to make sure that you are not unintentionally transferring your rights to your employer.
What Does It Mean When You Own a Copyright? If you own the copyright to a work, no one else may use, reproduce, disseminate, or perform the work without your permission. This does not, however, prevent uses that fall under the Fair Use Doctrine, such as when others use your work for teaching, scholarship, research, and criticism. Like the teacher who copies a poem to distribute to his class and the movie critic who quotes the movie in her scathing review, the Fair Use Doctrine prevents copyright law from squelching our freedom of speech. For a helpful guide to fair use, check out the Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use of Dance-Related Materials.
If I Own the Physical Item, Do I Own Its Copyright? Please be aware that ownership of the physical item does not equal ownership of the copyright. For example, if you own a Degas painting, you do not also own the rights to make copies of the painting and sell them. Under the First Sale Doctrine, you are allowed to sell physical items on Ebay or donate them to museums; you would just not have any copyright ownership in the item to transfer (and so the new owner may not make copies and sell them either).