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Helping Medical Exhibit Buyers Find What They Need: The best medical exhibit companies, stock exhibits, and medical legal illustrations.

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Helping Medical Exhibit Buyers Find What They Need

Understanding Copyright Laws

1. Copyright Protects Artists' Rights.

Copyright laws are laws that have been established to protect an artist's right to obtain commercial benefit from valuable work, and to protect the artist's general right to control how the work is used. United States law (Title 17, U.S. Code) establishes this protection by stating that:

The creator of an "original work of authorship" dictates who owns the rights to reproduce and/or manipulate the creator's work, whether it is published or not.

2. Copyright Takes Effect Automatically and Immediately.

When an artist creates an original piece of art and puts it in a fixed form that others are able to view, the copyright protection automatically takes effect at the moment of creation and belongs solely to the artist. The artist may then decide to sell reproduction rights or transfer copyright ownership to another party as specifically agreed to between the artist and the other party. If there is no specific agreement or permission given in writing by the artist to the other party, the artist retains all the rights originally given to him/her when the artwork was created.

For work that was created after January 1, 1978, the copyright protection endures for the life of the creator plus 70 years.

The use of a copyright notice is no longer required (Berne Convention, effective March 1, 1989) under U. S. law. The work is protected automatically by copyright law at the moment of creation, whether a copyright notice is clearly visible on the artwork or not.

3. Original Visual Works of Art Are Protected.

Listed here are some examples of visual works that are protected by copyright law:

Illustrations, drawings, paintings, computer artwork, models, original prints (engravings, etchings, serigraphs, screen prints, etc.), murals, photographs, photo montages, advertisements, commercial prints, labels, collages, posters, sculpture, technical drawings, diagrams, blueprints, mechanical drawings, design, artwork applied to clothing, movies and animations.

The copyright protection extends only to the artist's visual expression of a subject matter, and not to the mechanical or utilitarian aspects of the subject matter itself. In other words, if an illustrator creates a drawing of a pair of sneakers, the drawing itself is protected from being reproduced but the design of the sneakers is not. It is the artist's creative and unique interpretation of a subject matter that is protected, and not the subject matter itself. A photographer's unique photo of a mountain is protected from being reproduced, but the moutain itself is not protected from other people taking photos of it (as long as the latter photo does not duplicate the unique artistic expression of the former photographer).

4. Unique Visual Expression/interpretation is Protected.

Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it does protect the way these things are expressed. Subject material and information of public domain is not protected (Berne Convention Implementation Act of 1988, Section 12.), but the unique visual expression and/or interpretation of this material or information is protected. It is not the public information that is protected, but rather the unique visual expression and/or interpretation of it by the artist.

5. Copyright Protection Gives the Owner Exclusive Rights

Section 106 of the 1976 Copyright Act gives the owner of the copyright the exclusive right to do (and to authorize others to do) the following:
  • Reproduce the work in copies or prints
  • Prepare derivative works based upon the work
  • Distribute copies of the work to the public by sale or other transfer of onwership, or by rental, lease, or lending
  • Display the copyrighted work publicly.

The copyright owner may sell reproduction rights or display rights to another party for a specified usage and compensation.

6. Copyright Infringement Carries Big Penalties.

It is illegal for anyone to violate any of the rights provided by the copyright law to the owner of copyright. Section 504 of the U.S. Code, Title 17, allows the copyright owner to recover damages suffered by him/her as a result of infringement, and any profits the infringer gained from the infringed work. Furthermore, the copyright owner may elect to recover an award of statutory damages in a sum not less that $750 nor more than $30,000 per infringement. In the case where the copyright owner can show that the infringment was comitted knowingly and willfully, the court may increase the award for statutory damages to a maximum of $150,000. To avoid the $150,000 fine, the infringer has the burden of convincing the court that he/she was not aware that the work was copyrighted and had no reason to believe that his/her acts constituted an infringement of copyright. Ignorance of the law, though, is no excuse; claiming ignorance will still make you liable for damages. By reading the information contained in this document, you can no longer claim ignorance. You are now aware that visual artwork is automatically copyright protected at the moment of creation by the artist, and you are informed that unauthroized reproduction of protected work is infringement.

The court may also award a reasonable attorney's fee and court costs to the prevailing party as part of the award.

7. Copyright Owners May Sell Reproduction Rights

The copyright owner may sell the right to reproduce protected artwork to another party if both parties agree to specified usage and compensation. The compensation is determined by the scope of the usage, and the permission for that specific usage does not authorize any other usage other than that which was agreed to. Additional usage may be arranged with additional compensation for the usage rights.

8. Reproduction Rights Do Not Transfer Copyright Ownership

Reproduction rights are permissions given to someone authorizing them to reproduce a protected work for a specified use in return for royalties or compensation paid to the copyright owner. When specific reproduction rights are sold, the copyright owner retains all origianal rights to the artwork and may resell the artwork or publish it as he/she pleases. The purchaser of the reproduction rights may only reproduce the artwork as specified in the agreement with the copyright owner, and the purchaser does not have the right to use the artwork in any other manner.

9. The Copyright Owner May Transfer Copyright Ownership

Transfers of copyright are normally made by contract. Any or all of the copyright owner's exclusive rights or any subdivision of those rights may be transferred, but the transfer of exclusive rights is not valid unless that transfer is in writing and signed by the owner.

10. Mere Possession of Artwork Does Not Transfer Copyright

Mere ownership of a visual work does not give the possessor copyright ownership. The law provides that transfer of ownership of any material object that embodies a protected work does not of itself convey any rights in the copyright. An artist may deliver the original artwork to the client and still retain the copyrights to the artwork even though the artist is no longer in possession of the physical work.

11. Visuals Work is Not Work For Hire Unless Agreed To

Unless the artist is employed as an employee, the work created by the artist remains the property of the artist until sold, and all the copyrights are retained by the artist unless transferred via a contract with another party. In order for the visual work to be considered work for hire (allowing the employer to own the artwork and the copyrights), both parties must expressly agree in a written instrument signed by both parties that the work shall be considered a work made for hire. If no written agreement is made, then the work that the artist creates is not considered work for hire.

12. Fair Use is No Excuse for Copyright Infringement

Fair Use laws (Section 107, Title 17, U.S. Code) allow for reproduction without permission only for purposes of criticism, commentary, news reporting, non-for-profit education (copies for school classroom use), scholarship, or research. Fair use of copyrighted artwork is determined on a case by case basis and can be difficult to confirm. Following these general guidlines (adapted from University of Texas Systems website on intellectual property) can help you determine if the use is fair or not:

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13. Derivative Works are Still Considered Property of Owner

Derivative works are new works based on, or derived from, existing copyrighted works. U.S. copyright law states that ³derivative works² are controlled by the original owner and protected by the original ownerıs copyrights. If you want to create a new work, it either has to be original and unique, or you must obtains permission from the copyright owner.

14. Avoid Common Misconceptions About Copyright Law

  • Artwork is copyrighted whether it has a copyright notice or not. The use of a copyright notice is no longer required (Berne Convention, effective March 1, 1989) under U. S. law. The work is protected automatically by copyright law at the moment of creation, whether a copyright notice is clearly visible on the artwork or not.

  • Reproducing, distributing, or commercially using a copyrighted work without getting written permission to use the work is infringement, regardless of how the infringer uses the work or whether he/she uses it for profit or provides it free of charge. Serious damages can be recoverd by the copyright owner if the infringer hurts the commercial value of the artwork, or if the infringer keeps the owner from making a fair profit.

  • Apart from government documents freely available to the public, nothing modern is in the public domain anymore unless the owner explicitly puts it in the public domain. Putting something in the public domain requires the owner to specifically state "I grant this to the public domain". Otherwise it is not considered public domain.

  • It is not considered Fair Use if you stand to make a profit from it or if you are taking a profit (or control) away from the copyright owner.The Fair Use exemption to U.S. copyright law was created to allow things such as commentary, parody, news reporting, research and school education about copyrighted works without the permission of the author. When determining whether a use is fair use or not, you have to look at your intent and the possible damage to the commercial value of the work. If your intent is to gain something (profit, for example) by using the work, then it is not fair use. If your use of the artwork takes away from its commercial value (for example, making it available to the public without permission), then it is not fair use.

  • It is not the artistıs responsibility to defend his/her copyright, or to go out of his/her way to protect the created artwork. The copyright is automatically in effect as soon as the artwork is created, and it is in effective in full strength until the creatorıs death plus 70 years.

  • If you create new artwork using characters or significant/identifiable parts or creative expressions found in existing artwork, it is in violation of copyright laws. You need to get the original artist's permission to create derivative works based on copyrighted work. A drawing of a photograph is not considered an original unique visual work and is therefore infringment. Hiring an low-cost artist to recreate a similar high-cost picture is not considered an original unique visual work and is therefore infringment.

  • Copyright law is mostly civil law, and the phrase "Innocent until proven guilty" does not apply. If the copyright owner can show to the judge that you reproduced or distributed his work without permission, then you lose.

  • Copyright violation is now considered a crime. Recently in the United States, commercial copyright infringements involving more than 10 copies and a value over $2500 were made a felony.

  • Don't assume that unauthorized preproduction/distribution/ usage of artwork isn't hurting anyone, or that it is benefiting the artist because it is free advertising. If you don't get the artist's permission, it is illegal. Piracy hurts everyone, not just the artist.

  • Having a copy of the artwork does not mean having the copyright. By owning a copy of the artwork, you do not have the authorization to reproduce, distribute, or use it without permission from the copyright owner.

  • Copyright law makes it illegal to reproduce, distribute, modify or use original creative work without permission. Even if the work has no real commercial value, the artist's right to control what is done with the work should be respected.

15. Additional Information and Resources Are Available

You can find more information about copyright law by calling:

The Copyright Public Information Office (202) 707-3000.

or by visiting

More information about fair use is available at:

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