Copyrights in American and Polish law
As it is generally known, the United States of America is divided into 50 states and one federal district – District of Columbia.
That division directly derives from the US Constitution which stipulates that the USA is a federation of states that have limited sovereignty not only from each other but also from the federal government.
This abovementioned provision materially influences the whole process of creating and adopting law in the United States. Because of the very strictly obeyed rules of federalism the federal government may only regulate that areas of law that are not regulated individually by each state.
Obviously, because of the presumption of the legislative power of states, the federal government is left only with the most important for the country matters of law to be regulated. Additionally it must be remembered that in the USA, generally (with one exception of Louisiana) there is a common law system that also enlists court judgments as a part of law.
All of this makes the United States’ law system a very complicated one that is hard to navigate in.
However, on the contrary to the common beliefs law in America is created and enacted by statutes. Moreover, there are also some codes that significantly resemble those that are binding in the civil law systems and not only in particular states (e.g. State of Lousiana has a civil code that is based upon the civil code of France – the Napoleon code from 1804) but also on the federal, so the governmental tier of law.
The code that I mentioned is the United States Code. It is a codified compilation of a general and permanent law that are enacted by the US Congress. This code is the most vivid example of the process of codification in America and regulates such areas of law as bankruptcies, armed forces or money and finance.
As a general rule in America intellectual property rights may be regulated only by the federal government. Because of that, the abovementioned US Code contains the appropriate provisions that deal with this area of law, in particular patents are regulated in Title 35 and copyrights, that are the subject matter of this article, are regulated in Title 17.
According to these provisions a copyright is a a form of protection that is granted by the law of the US to the authors of, using the exact terminology, original works of authorship (e.g. in literary, musical or any other kind of intellectual works).
According to art. 102 copyright protection subsists, in accordance with this title, in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.
This provision means that not every category of intellectual work may be granted with a copyright protection but only that kind which may be embodied and perceived in a some kind of tangible form.
Especially one cannot be granted with a copyright protection just for his own idea or thought – to acquire this right one must forge this idea into a kind of an intellectual property work, so for example a book or movie.
Besides of that art. 102 also contains a list of all categories that are not eligible for copyright (e.g. ideas, procedures, methods of operation, discoveries or principles). However, it crucial to point out that the work does not need to be published in order to gain the copyright protection.
Moreover, in order to be granted with copyright our works also does not need to be register in any office (especially in the Copyright Office), because it is granted by operation of law – the copyright is secured automatically when the work is created and it is the moment of consolidation the intellectual property work in the some kind of tangible way.
However, the registration of the copyright gives a certain advantages to the author such as:
- it gives a public record of the copyright claim;
- if the copyright is infringed the author may bring an infringement suit only if this copyright has already bee registered;
- registration gives a court an evidence of its existence;
It must also be mentioned that not only a registration is required to be granted with the copyright protection but also the work that are deprived of the notice of copyright (the symbol ©) uses it protection.
Another thing, that was partially been already answered, is the issue of who can claim a copyright?
From the appropriate provision we can plainly see that this protection may be claimed only by the author of the work – he/she is an owner of it and only him/her can rightfully claim a copyright. This general rule is complemented with two principles:
- mere ownership of a tangible form of an intellectual work does not give the possessor a copyright. If there was no such rule, every time when one would buy a book he would been transferred with this book author’s copyright;
- minors may claim copyright but state laws may regulate the business dealing involving copyrights owned by minors (because the issues of a capability to legal acts is regulated by the state laws).
The whole idea of a copyright is to protect financial and non-monetary interests of authors (it must be pointed out the an author is not only a person who writes but anyone who creates a work). However, it would be contrary to the law if the protection would be indefinite.
Because of that, US Code stipulates that the copyright protection lasts only for the definite period of time – it endures for a term consisting of the life of the author and additionally 70 years after the death of this author.
In Polish legal system the wide area of law as it is the intellectual property is not taken into one legal act but it is spread amongst various statutes. The most interesting right for this article, co the copyright is wholly defined and regulated in the statute of February 4, 1994 on copyrights and related rights (Journal of Laws 1994 No 24 item 83).
In light of article 1 of this act, a copyright is a legal instrument that protects interests of the authors. The subject matter of the copyright is a work, so each individual creative work, embodied in any form, regardless of its value, designation, or medium of expression.
In particular the examples of the work may be: works expressed in words, artistic works, photographic works, works of industrial design, musical works and textual and musical works or audiovisual works (including motion pictures). This catalog is an open one – that means that the protection of a copyright may be granted to any kind of an individual creative work that was shaped in a some kind of a tangible form.
As we can clearly see the copyright under the USA law is a very similar legal instrument as in Polish law – in both legal regimes that kind of an intellectual property law means a protection granted to the authors on their individual, creative work that is expressed in a tangible shape or form.
Just like in US Code the copyright protection under the Polish law also does not apply to discoveries, ideas, procedures, methods and principles of operation or mathematical concepts. Another similarity is that this protection is granted to the author solely by the operation of law – the author does not need to fulfill any additional requirements – in particular he/she does not need to registry his work in order to gain a copyright.
Apart from that the duration of the copyright protection is also the same in both countries because it last 70 years from the death of an author.
In consideration of the abovementioned comparison we can plainly see that, besides the vast differences in the legal system between Poland and the USA the copyrights are regulated almost in the exact way.
However, it must be mentioned that the similarity entails not only to the copyrights but to all kind of the intellectual property rights.