How to learn copyright law....
As a long-term open source software developer, I have to say one never really stops learning copyright law. There are however some very basic things to be aware of. There are even questions which have not been definitively answered, such as whether or when
#include <headerfile.h> can ever lead to the copyright holder of headerfile.h having a say in the code that merely includes the headerfile for functional reasons. Sometimes we do get lucky and get answers from the court (see the recent
Kirtseang v. Wiley where the Supreme Court held that foreign first sales are first sales under US copyright law, an opinion that did not sway the whole court however). More often we don't (if I link to GNU Readline at runtime only, does the GPL govern my work?).
The first is that everywhere copyright seeks to strike a balance between works being publicly available and encouraging their creation. The lines are not always exact. In the US for example, a bunch of data collected in a database is not generally protected, but the selection, arrangement, and layout of recipes in a cookbook is (even though the individual recipes are not protected). In the UK the data in a database may be subject to copyright but if I assemble the same data in a new data I am in the clear as long as I collected it myself. This is an example of differing lines and how both seek to balance the same two interests but end up doing so differently.
The second thing is that one or two sources are never going to get you far enough to really understand it. For the US, you can start with the Copyright Office, but that doesn't give you more than a very brief overview.
So beyond that, another thing you can do is read important caselaw. These are important because they give you a sense of what judges are thinking the laws mean. Important cases in the US include:
- Universal Studios v. Reimerdes (2nd circuit, holding that although software was free speech, the DMCA could prohibit links to DeCSS)
- MGM v. Grokster (Supreme Court, holding that a company may be held liable for infringement by customers where they market infringing uses of their products)
- Sony v. Universal Studios, Supreme Court, holding that a business is not liable for infringement by customers due to mere infringing capability of their products if they have substantial non-infringing uses
- Sony v. Connectix, 9th Circuit, holding that reverse engineering is fair use, and that copying in order to reverse engineer is fair use.
- Lexmark v. Static Control, 6th Circuit, holding that copyright does not extend to components needed to make interoperable printer cartridges.
- Kirtsaeng v. Wiley, holding that a foreign first sale can and in most cases will, count as a first sale for copyright purposes in the US.
Beyond that start following legal blogs covering copyright issues, preferably those with multiple viewpoints so you aren't just buying an agenda.
Finally, whenever you are concerned, hire a lawyer. Treat the lawyer as a consultant. Don't be shy when asking questions. After all part of what you are paying him for is to help you understand.