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Copyright Summary (Resumen sobre Copyright)

The following summary of the legal aspects of copyright and intellectual property has been prepared by the Editorial Board of Ciencia al Día Internacional. It is intended to help the authors of this journal understand what their rights are as authors of a literary or scientific work, as well as what their responsibilities and restrictions are in the use of the work of others.

This document is not necessarily complete and cannot be used as evidence in a court of law in case of a lawsuit for copyright or intellectual property rights violations.

The present document is based on two main sources: the declaration of the Universal Copyright Convention, available over the Internet at: and the book "The Writer's Lawyer: Essential Legal Advice for Writers and Editors in All Media", by Ronald L. Goldfarb & Gail E. Ross (Times Books, 1989). This latest source analyses the copyright and intellectual property laws in the USA. We recommend this text to USA residents as a guide of the local copyright law.

For further details we suggest the reader refer to the copyright laws of the author's country of residence since, even if the published material is distributed from another country, it is the author's country of residence that determines what law rules over his/her publication.

Electronic publications are, up to our knowledge, not yet subject to clear copyright protection laws. However, while the different countries, individually or as a whole, enact such laws, our recommendation to the authors is to follow the copyright laws described herein and in the aforementioned documents. The government of the USA has recently passed a copyright law that defines the conditions under which downloading of electronic material can be requested or performed (No Electronic Theft (NET) Act, Dec. 17, 1997). However, due to the limited and rather biased scope of this new law, we predict a slow adjustment process until a more balanced and acceptable law is enacted. For the moment, however, this is the existing law that USA residents must abide by (see article in the March 1998 issue of Scientific American:

Summary of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, Paris, 1971

This Convention establishes a set of rules governing the rights of authors of intellectual, scientific and artistic works. One rule that repeatedly appears throughout this document is that the local laws of the country of residence of the author(s) take precedence over laws of other countries (see Article V, paragraphs 2, 3). For this reason, both the local and the international laws must be reviewed by the author about his/her rights, as well as about the use of intellectual, scientific or artistic material copyrighted to other author(s).

The protection over intellectual, scientific or artistic property that this Convention guarantees in the contracting states of this Convention ceases 70 years after the death of the last surviving author (counting from January 1st of the year following the death of that person). From that moment on, no restriction applies to the use, copy, translation or reproduction of any sort, of the copyrighted material. However, if the law of a contracting state stipulates the protection for a shorter duration than this, this shorter duration takes precedence over the duration established by the Convention. In no case can the duration of copyright protection exceed 50 years after the death of the last surviving author.

The author(s) of any literary, scientific and artistic works protected by the terms of this Convention retain all the rights to authorize the use, translation or reproduction of their work (Articles VIII and IX).

One of the most important articles of this Convention is Article X, which dictates that the use of quotes of copyrighted material is allowed only under the "fair use" concept. The concept of fair use basically means that the use of somebody else's work is limited to quotes of a certain length (in the case of text) necessary to transmit an idea without appropriating it. The maximum length of such quotes is generally unspecified and is still a matter of debate. Furthermore, it is required that the quote's reference, including the source of publication and the name of the author(s), appear wherever the quote is used. In general, the use of material in the manner just described (i.e. limited length, with explicit reference to the source and author's identity) is widely accepted if it is for educational or non-profit use. Works used for commercial purposes (books, textbooks, conferences, lectures, etc) may also include material under the concept of "fair use" but, in this case, the law tends to be applied in a more restricted sense.

It is very important to note that it is not the ideas but the form of the expression of the ideas that is regulated by copyright laws. This implies that only the explicit presentation of an idea (photographs, sketches or any other graphic medium, text, etc.) is restricted and that its use in the same form must explicitly be authorized by the author(s). Nevertheless, ideas, discoveries, concepts, facts, procedures, methods, etc. can be used in the context of other works, whether to stress or to illustrate the new ideas that the author(s) intend to present, unless the former are duly and explicitly patented. If these conditions are met, and the authorship of the quoted material is properly credited, the new work will be subject to the copyright privileges in favor of the author of such work.

In the USA, another factor that significantly influences the suspicion of copyright infringement is whether the use of somebody else's work diminishes the commercial value of the original work. This is very important in the case of scientific works since most of them do not have any commercial value. However, it is important to keep this in mind when one is writing a review of a subject using materials from other authors and in which no original experimental data is included.

Article II of the Convention stipulates that collections of literary or artistic works such as revisions, anthologies and encyclopedias, are protected by copyright laws in the same manner as any other work, in spite of the fact that the contents cited or quoted may themselves be subject to copyright protection. The translated form of a literary or scientific work is subject to the same laws that protect the original. The translator requires, nonetheless, explicit permission by the author to translate the work.

In order for an author of a literary or artistic work to be considered as such under the statutes of the Convention, it is sufficient that the name(s) of the author(s) be clearly included in the work in a manner that identifies him/her with the creator of the work. It is often very useful to add the term "copyright" or the symbol © next to the author(s) name(s). In the case that a publisher acquires the publication rights of a literary or scientific work, the intellectual property continues to reside in the author(s), and it is him/her/them the only ones with the right to authorize the use or reproduction of the said work, and not the publisher. However, in cases in which the work has been commissioned or has been created as part of a condition of employment, the employer has the right, in most cases, to retain at least some of the copyright privileges over the work.

The aforementioned copyright law protecting electronic material (NET Act, 1997: in the USA includes 2 worth mentioning elements. The first one is that protected works are only those whose commercial value exceeds US$2,500. In other words, this law is mainly designed to protect the authors of software and other sophisticated and commercially important material. The second is that no exceptions are included in that document covering what is described as "fair use". This means that, even though it is the commercially valuable works that are therein protected, any material that is used by an author for personal purposes (photographs, for instance) may be subject to restrictions imposed by this law. For this reason, any material borrowed from a web page must include the explicit permission from the author(s), just as in the case of material borrowed from any other source or medium.

The following is a good reference on the Copyright Law.