21 July 2008

07-21-2008 Let's Talk About Copyrights

Nowadays, we hear a lot about copyright and what you can and can't do with things you find on the web and elsewhere. "What is copyright?" This is a valid question that you may have asked yourself more than once. OK, according to the official government copyright website article (that I will make reference to throughout this entry {found at http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ1.pdf }) :

  • Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States
    (title 17, U. S. Code) to the authors of “original works of authorship,” including
    literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works. This
    protection is available to both published and unpublished works.

Now the question is, if I post an original article on my website, do I have to send a payment off to the copyright office in Washington, D.C. to secure ownership of that original article? The answer is no. The above mentionned article also states: "The way in which copyright protection is secured is frequently misunderstood. No publication or registration or other action
in the Copyright Office is required to secure copyright."

Most web pages that you will visit will have a copyright date posted. This is a nice reminder but not necessary for newer copyrights. "The use of a copyright notice is no longer required under U. S. law, although it is often beneficial. Because prior law did contain such a requirement, however, the use of notice is still relevant to the copyright status of older works." So you see, as soon as you post an original work on your web page, it is copyrighted although not a registered copyright.

Now we come up the question of the advantages of registering a copywrite. The official copyright website (on this page http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ1.html#cr) gives several reasons for registering your work. They are:

  • Registration establishes a public record of the copyright claim.
    Before an infringement suit may be filed in court, registration is necessary for works of U.S. origin.
  • If made before or within 5 years of publication, registration will establish prima facie evidence in court of the validity of the copyright and of the facts stated in the certificate.
  • If registration is made within 3 months after publication of the work or prior to an infringement of the work, statutory damages and attorney's fees will be available to the copyright owner in court actions. Otherwise, only an award of actual damages and profits is available to the copyright owner.
  • Registration allows the owner of the copyright to record the registration with the U. S. Customs Service for protection against the importation of infringing copies.

To me, registration of copyright would be desireable on anything that was financially beneficial to the holder. The photo albums some folks post of their cats are cute, but normally they wouldn't need to register a copyright on them unless the owner wanted to publish the photos in a book or calendar of cats. I think you get the idea of what I'm talking about.

Does that mean that because something has a copyright (registered or not) that you can not use it? Nope, not at all. Fair use is the phrase used to basically give limited permission to use copyrighted material (from http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl102.html);

Section 107 of the Copyright Act contains: list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered “fair,” such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Section 107 also sets out four factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair:

  • the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  • the nature of the copyrighted work;
  • amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  • the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

Some of this is common sense. If you are going to buy a crochet pattern to make a stuffed animal of let's say a Care Bear then you may not crochet these bears and sell them nor may you post the pattern on the Web. You may however, make them to your hearts delight and pass them out as gifts to every child you may know or even not know. You may NOT gain financially from your use of this pattern.

Now let's say, you have designed your own teddy bear pattern. You are confused about how to embroider the facial features on your original creaton so you look at the Care Bear pattern you have. You like the way the nose is embroidered on these creations (I really don't know if the nose is embroidered or a pompom is used, this is just an example) and decide to use the method of nose embroidery from the Care Bear pattern. Is this a copyright violation? Probably not because the "nose" is a very small part of the pattern and is not a "substantial" part of it. If you have any questions, your best bet is to consult with the copyright holder.

Another example of fair use of copyrighted material is when I was in college, the instructor a time or 2 copied a few pages out of a text book that the students didn't have. Because these pages were a small portion of a much larger work and were used for educational purposes, fair use came into play.

You are probably asking yourself why I am writing about this. The answer is simple. I am tired of "witch hunts" and censorship on the Internet in regards to this issue. There are forums blocking websites because of "suspicions." There is "fair use" authorized of copyrighted materials and the exclusion of this is harmful not only to the browser but also to the copyright holder who loses potential future financial gains by the lack of exposure to the public.

Source: Library of Congress. "Copyright United States Copyright Office." Available from http://www.copyright.gov/. Internet; accessed 21 Jul 2008.