Translating Copyright Law from Legalese into English

Translating Copyright Law from Legalese into English

May 23, 2014

Statutes, legal treatises, and judicial opinions are often disparaged as wordy, dense, and unnecessarily convoluted – and with good reason. It can be difficult for a non-lawyer to grasp the kernel of knowledge he seeks from the reading. Compounding this issue are the myriad of articles and websites that misinform, misdirect, or otherwise perpetuate misunderstood concepts. This problem is prevalent with U.S. copyright law: especially in regard to copyright creation, ownership, and use.

With this in mind, UNHInnovation (formerly the Office for Research Partnerships & Commercialization) sought to prepare a resource for UNH faculty and students, as well as the general public, to clarify common misunderstandings about U.S. copyright law. This primer was written to be a guide for both consumers and creators of copyrighted material.

Sources of Copyright Law

Copyright law itself has an extensive history. With roots beginning prior to the American Revolution, the notion of protection for artists and inventors was adapted from British law and incorporated into the U.S. Constitution by the Founding Fathers. Over many years, copyright statutes were passed by Congress and then interpreted by the courts. Legal scholars commented and criticized, and in response, Congress amended the statutes, which were then reinterpreted by the courts all over again. This, of course, created a complex body of legal authority and commentary which can confound the unwary and unprepared.

Turning Tomes of Law into Something Readable

The Copyright Primer distills the law into a document approximately four pages long, and covers the main topics of copyright creation, ownership, infringement, fair use, and liabilities. UNHInnovation created the Copyright Primer to cut through the clutter and give faculty and students guidelines for complying with copyright, and also for protecting their own copyrighted materials. We also wanted to dispel some myths about ownership and the Fair Use defense. Finally, we wanted to accomplish this in a manner that was easy to read and easy to access.

The Copyright Primer is now available for download. If you have any questions about copyrights or the Copyright Primer, please contact Tim Willis, Licensing Manager, at

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