US Coins

Collectibles and Law: Don't infringe on protected rights

As more information about coins and the coin market becomes available on the Internet, my clients have been seeing an increasing number of copyright infringement claims.

These can be annoying to copyright owners, and very expensive for the infringers.

My guess is that many people still harbor myths about the scope of copyright protection, such as the following:

? Myth No. 1: I don’t need permission because I am only using a small amount of the copyrighted work.

Depending upon the significance of the excerpts being used, even a very small use could be unlawful.

? Myth No. 2: I purchased a book or subscribed to a newsletter, so I already have permission.

The right to read a copyright protected work does not give permission to reproduce or republish all or any portion of the work, which is still the exclusive right of the copyright owner.

? Myth No. 3: I didn’t mean to infringe anything.

Lack of intent to infringe is not a defense to copyright infringement nor is ignorance of the copyright law.

? Myth No. 4: I don’t need permission because I’m not using the work for commercial gain.

Copying for educational or non-profit use is only one of the factors that determine whether a use is “fair” or not. However, if asked, many copyright owners/publishers will give permission to nonprofit educational institutions without a fee.

? Myth No. 5: The work I want to use doesn’t have a copyright notice on it, so it’s not protected by copyright.

For works published after March 1, 1989, the use of a copyright notice is optional. If a work is published without a copyright notice it doesn’t necessarily mean the work is not protected by copyright.

? Myth No. 6: Since I’m planning to give credit to the authors who created the works I copy, I don’t need permission.

Giving proper attribution may save you from a plagiarism accusation, but not from a copyright infringement action.

? Myth No. 7: The author of the work that I want to use lives outside of the United States, so the work is not protected by copyright in the United States.

Non U.S. authors who live in countries that belong to the Berne Convention or the Universal Copyright Convention automatically obtain copyright protection in the United States. Most major countries are members of at least one of these conventions.

? Myth No. 8: Material I obtain from the Internet is in the public domain and no permission is required.

This is a big one! There is no difference between the protections afforded to online documents and websites and those offered to any other written materials. Works do not enter the public domain unless the owner explicitly puts them into the public domain, the copyright protection has expired, or the works were created by employees of the federal government (which cannot, by law, be copyrighted).

On many websites, the Web publisher has indicated the allowed uses; check for links identified as copyright information, use information, copyright policy and more for an explanation of such permitted uses.

The purpose of copyright law is to balance the interests of authors with those of society in general. The Internet makes written works more available, but not less protected.

Armen R. Vartian is an attorney and author of A Legal Guide to Buying and Selling Art and Collectibles. Contact him at

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