Glossary created by Berkman Center team

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Public Performance or Display

A copyrighted work is publicly displayed if the public has access to it.

The right to publicly display or perform a creative work is one of the fundamental rights granted to a copyright holder. A work is publicly displayed or performed if the public can view it. Whether the public has to pay is not an issue.

U.S. Copyright Act, Section 101 states:

“To perform or display a work “publicly” means (1) to perform or display it at a place open to the public or at any place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances is gathered; or (2) to transmit or otherwise communicate a performance or display of the work to a place specified by clause (1) or to the public, by means of any device or process, whether the members of the public capable of receiving the performance or display receive it in the same place or in separate places and at the same time or at different times.

So, a painting on the wall of someone’s home is not publicly displayed, but a painting on the wall of City Hall is. When the work in question is an outdoor artwork, or a building, things can become difficult to determine. There is also the question of whether a search engine is publicly displaying works when it shows thumbnail images.

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Formally obtaining copyright protections for a creative work by notifying the copyright office that it exists.

In U.S. copyright law, although a creative work receives copyright at the moment it is fixed in a tangible form, a copyright holder cannot file suit against an alleged infringer without officially registering the work with the copyright office.

The Berne Convention does not require registration, or any other official formalities.

See also:

  • Formalities

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What a court grants a rightsholder who has won an infringement lawsuit.

When a copyright lawsuit is resolved in favor of the rightsholder, a court will then grant them relief -- relief from the harm which they have suffered as a result of the infringement


Injunctive relief occurs when a court issues an injunction or a restraining order against an infringer.

The injunction might order that infringing content be removed from display, or that extant illegal copies be collected and destroyed, or whatever measures the court finds appropriate.


Statutory relief is relief according whatever provisions for relief exist explicitly in statute.

These could include damage awards, criminal punishment or more.

Religious Legal System

A religious legal system is one where the law is based on the tenets of a particular religion.

Some religious legal systems exist on their own, while some exist in conjunction with another legal system. Sharia, the system of religiously inspired Islamic law, is an example of a religious legal system, as are Hindu law and Halakha or Jewish law.

See also:

  • Common Law
  • Civil Law

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The rights a creator, copyright holder, the public or member of the public has as a result of copyright.

Copyright grants its holder various exclusive rights as part of its limited time monopoly. These rights can be usefully divided into economic rights and moral rights. In addition, as part of the copyright “bargain” the public gains certain rights in a copyrighted work as well. A list of these rights follows.

Right of Integrity

The right to prevent the destruction or defacement of a creative work, or to object to any changes made to a creative work

Most often seen in the context of a painting or sculpture. For example, the rights to a piece of art on display.

Right of Attribution

The right to be known as the creator of a particular creative work, to be given appropriate credit for one’s creations, and not to be blamed for things one did not create.

Right of Disclosure

The right to determine when and if a work shall be made public.

Right of Reproduction

The right to make copies of a work.

Right of Adaptation

The right to make derivative works.

Right of Distribution

The right to sell, export or import a work or copies of a work.

Right of Public Performance and Display

The right to perform or display a work in public.

Right of Withdrawal

The right to withdraw a work from the public sphere.

Most commonly seen with artworks of which only a single copy exists but also sometimes seen as a right to purchase extant copies of a creative work at a reduced rate. For example, a book a writer no longer wants on the market.

Right of Access

The right of the public to have access to a published copyrighted work.

This particular right is actually not a right of the copyright holder, but rather of the public. In return for granting the creator the various copyrights, arguably at the expense of the public, the public gains access to the work.

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Rome Convention

The Rome Convention for the Protection of Performers, Producers of Phonograms and Broadcasting Organisations

The Rome Convention is an international copyright agreement specifically addressing the rights of three groups. These groups are: performers, the producers of sound recordings, and the broadcasters of broadcasts, all of whom receive protection for their efforts, especially against acts to which they have not consented, like being recorded. First done in 1961, the convention attempts to offer specific protection for creative work that might otherwise not qualify for copyright, usually because of its transitory nature.

See also:

  • Neighboring Rights

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Statute of Limitations

A statute of limitations is a law that limits how long a person can wait to bring a legal action after a law is broken.

When the time limit specified by the statute of limitations has run out, or “tolled”, any future legal action is said to be "barred". For example, if the statute of limitations for a particular crime is 10 years, it is generally not possible to prosecute for that crime twelve years after it took place.

With respect to copyright law, the statute of limitations will describe how long after an act of infringement a rights-holder can wait to bring a suit. It will also limit the number of infringing acts for which the rights holder may seek damages. The length of the time limit varies between jurisdictions, and the exact nature of the limits varies as well.

For instance, in the United States, there is a three year statute of limitations for copyright violations, although this is a generic limit, not specific to copyright. This three year clock begins on the date of the most recent infringing act. However, some courts treat this as a “rolling” three years, meaning that a rights holder can only seek damages for acts within the three years prior to bringing suit. Other courts have held that even if the infringing began more than three years prior to the suit, if the infringement was ongoing, and at least one act was within the last three years, the rights holder may seek damages for all of the infringing acts.

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Statutory Exemption

An exemption to copyright law protections explicitly written into statute.

While a particular behavior might be infringing under the general description of copyright, it is specifically exempted, usually for public policy reasons. For example, copying books without the express permission of the rights-holder is a violation of copyright. However, making copies expressly for the purpose of providing the disabled with access to the book is exempted by statute. Therefore, such behavior is not infringing.

Other statutory exemptions include copying for certain academic uses, especially instructional activities, copying for archival purposes or to deal with broken or obsolete technology, distance education, and more.

The Berne Convention places some limits on what statutory exemptions a country can have in its national legislation with its three-step test, saying “"[i]t shall be a matter for legislation in the countries of the Union to permit the reproduction of such [literary and artistic] works in certain special cases, provided that such reproduction does not conflict with a normal exploitation of the work and does not unreasonably prejudice the legitimate interests of the author".

See also:

  • Berne Convention

Other resources:


Tangible Medium

The physical form that a copyrighted work may take.

U.S copyright law requires that a creative work be fixed in a “tangible medium” before it qualifies for copyright, in contrast with the law of some other countries, which confer copyright at the moment of conception.

The tangibility requirement has led to some problems with protection for types of works that are not normally “fixed”, such as dance, stand-up comedy, live musical performances, and more. It has also been the subject of much discussion with respect to computers, computer displays and computer memory, in terms of when a program or a program’s output is “fixed” or not. Some of these issues have been addressed with targeted legislation.

See also:

  • Fixation

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TPM – Technological Protection Measures

Technological protection measures, or “TPM” are security measures added to digital technology and content by content providers in order to restrict and control access, and exert greater control over the uses of the content they sell.

TPM is a broader term than “DRM", which really refers only to software-encoded protections. TPM is potentially both software and hardware based. Measures could include requiring passwords, filtering software, censor chips in computers, monitoring/ surveillance technology, (semi-)autonomous software tools and more. Regionally coded DVDs and DVD players are one example of a TPM. Other examples are Microsoft’s “Trusted Computing” and the “feature” of Apple’s iTunes that permits users to transfer a song to only five different computers.

While ostensibly aimed only at infringing users, TPM techniques often have negative impact on legitimate users, both with respect to legal uses and to privacy concerns. However, under at least U.S. law, it is illegal both to circumvent any technological protection measure and to possess anything that makes circumvention possible. The potentially sweeping nature of TPMs has led some to argue that TPMs make it possible for a rights-holder to not only enforce their copyright, but to exert control over a work that exceeds the limits of what copyright law permits.

See also:

  • DRM

Other resources:

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