The clear-cut on copyright

April 10, 2014 by  
Filed under News

By Leigh Scaggs, Boyd County Public Library network administrator

Only one thing is impossible for God: To find any sense in any copyright law on the planet. – Mark Twain

Once upon a time, a thousand years ago (okay, maybe just 20) copyright law was clear to everyone. If you went out and got a book or magazine, copied something from it, and passed it off as your own work you were violating copyright. Simple.

In our digital age, sites like Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest are created just so people can share. This has led to the belief that if you find something you like on the internet, then it’s legal to use it. That’s not the case.

Copyright laws were created to protect “original works of authorship” whether they’re literary, musical, artistic or dramatic. So, copyright is the legal exclusive right of the author of a creative work to control the copying of that work. The United States accepted the Berne Convention in 1989 and everything created since then is implicitly copyrighted.

The primary mistake made is in assuming that if something is put on the internet anyone can use it. In the terms of the law today, nothing is in the public domain unless it is explicitly stated.

A related mistake people make is thinking that if it doesn’t have a copyright notice it means it’s not copyrighted. This used to be true, but under current law anything that’s an original creation is assumed to be copyrighted. We’re not just talking about text here either; pictures you find on the internet are copyrighted unless indicated otherwise, including those cute cat pictures.

Another common misconception is the belief that if you’re not making money off of it you’re not violating copyright. While not charging for material you’ve appropriated on the internet could lower the amount of damages awarded to the original creator by the court, you’re still legally liable. There is an exception for making backup copies of music for personal use, but if you distribute those copies the assumption is that you’ve violated the rights of the creators.

People also use the term “Fair Use” to justify their use of certain materials. Fair use laws were created to allow for news reporting, research, commentary, parody and satire. The deciding principle in fair use is generally whether you’ve damaged the commercial value of the original work. Have you included just enough of the original work to make your point, or have you used so much of it that there would be no reason for someone to purchase the original after they’ve experienced your creation?

Generally speaking, internet authors don’t mind sharing, but be aware of what the copyright laws are concerning internet materials.

Leigh Scaggs is the Network Administrator with the Boyd County Public Library.


Debbie Cosper

About Debbie Cosper

Director of Boyd County Public Library since August 2003. I have the best job in the world and hope people love The Library as much as I do.

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