Copyright and the Public Domain: One Hubber's Perspective
Lots of good articles review the particulars of copyright law, and granted, there is a bit of gray area in the interpretations, but I just don't think the basics are that difficult to understand - if you did not write or create the work, you need permission to reproduce it. Period. Unless it is in the "public domain," and I believe this is where most of the "public" gets confused, especially as the Internet has become a standard household utility, taken for granted like telephone and electric service.
Copy and Paste functions make copyright violations very easy. Anyone can publish anything on the Internet these days. There are no editors to help educate the uninformed writer about copyright law. "Publishers" in the form of Internet service providers generally only respond to copyright complaints if they originate from the copyright holder. As it becomes easier and easier to reproduce the creative and intellectual property of others, an attitude of "everyone else is doing it" spreads, and copyright owners become discouraged with a "what's the use?" perspective on fighting violations.
What is the "public domain"? Let's start with what it is not - just because song lyrics are posted all over the Internet does not mean they are in the public domain. It's not about public access, it's about public ownership. Property enters the public domain when copyright expires, or when a copyright owner relinquishes their rights to the public domain.
When do copyrights expire? According to the circular How to Investigate the Copyright Status of a Work, published by the United States Copyright Office, "A work that is created and fixed in tangible form for the first time on or after January 1, 1978, is automatically protected from the moment of its creation and is ordinarily given a term enduring for the author’s life plus an additional 70 years after the author’s death."
Rules vary for works created prior to 1978 and your research won't be easy if you have any question about copyright ownership. This table published by Cornell University provides an overview of Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States
As copyright becomes devalued in today's internet environment, I feel more compelled than ever to educate my friends and colleagues regarding the importance of protecting intellectual and creative property rights. It's often hard for those who do not produce creative content to understand what the big deal is. I've compared it to "sampling" the grapes in the produce section of your grocery store. It might not seem like you are really hurting anyone - it's just pennies, right? Right. And it is still shop-lifting.
Not all writers care if you copy and paste their work. Some appreciate it, especially if you link back to their original. A few even believe that copyright hurts more than it protects. But for those of us hoping to earn a little money from our creations, it's important for others to understand not just how violating copyright costs us individually in monetary terms, but how it costs all of us in general. A lack of enforcement doesn't absolve indivduals from the responsibility to obey the law. Breaking the rules dilutes the value of the protection and contributes to a trend where copyright might become obsolete.
Where do you stand?
How do you feel about copyright violations in the Internet world?See results without voting
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