Sunday, August 26, 2012

Cut, Paste and Copyright

I've been exploring the seeming demise of the copyright, particularly when it comes to internet usages.  But while technology has erected obstacles to the effectiveness of enforcing copyright, those rights do exist.  And if you violate them, you may be the recipient of a nasty letter from a lawyer demanding compensation.

Images and articles on the internet are not fair game to copy and use as you see fit.  This is true even if the item does not contain a copyright notice or symbol.  In fact its even true for such websites as Pinterest, which exists entirely for the purpose of reposting images from the internet.

A question came up at a recent writers conference about using images off the internet. Unfortunately some of the answers were not quite on target.

Copyright protection applies to “original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression.” That's it.  No other requirement.  No copyright registration is required, nor does the author have to use the  © symbol, or any other type of notice.

No attribution is needed for copyright to apply.  And even a mistake attribution of "anonymous" or "traditional" or "author unknown" does not provide immunity to copyright protection.

One group recently learned this lesson the hard way.  A speaker at its annual conference used a poem which he found on the internet - a poem largely attributed to "anonymous -- in both his materials and his presentation."   A few weeks later, the organization received a demand for payment from the attorney for the author of the poem.  It seems the author has a bit of a cottage industry tracking the use of her poem on the internet then having her lawyer send demands for payment for its use.

The lesson is simple. Seek permission or purchase the rights.  Remember, as a writer, you have all copyright ownership in your works.  But so does every other writer, artist or photographer.

For a worthwhile article on copyright, take a look at "Just Because You Can Copy It Does Not Mean That You May Copy It" by Mintz Levin.

But what about fair use?  What about just quoting a few lines? How does copyright differ from plagiarism?  Those are some of the topics I'll be taking a look at in the next couple of weeks.

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