Saturday, February 07, 2015

How does the Internet affect copyright? - Denyse O’Leary

If you teach, preach, or reach anyone online—what are your copyright issues?

In theory, copyright should be the same on the Internet as everywhere. In practice, it is not so simple. When I was a permissions editor in the 1980s, someone trademarked the phrase “three-peat” (three consecutive wins). Maybe I owe someone money for even using the phrase in this article. Or maybe not.

Some years later, publishers tried to assert that there was no such thing as copyright on the Internet, a huge rights grab on their part because they asserted it among themselves while denying it to writers.

We successfully resisted that, but where are we now? The Internet changed a lot of things. On the one hand, the Internet makes it easier than ever to detect plagiarism. On the other hand, comedians claim that people are stealing their jokes. Possibly, jokes are the easiest thing to steal. Over coffee. To make a point. But before the era of the blog, the theft would hardly be pursuable.

Right now, it is a frontier, so one can only assert general principles:
Copyright law still governs, but it takes time to change laws to conform to reasonable principles . For example, as one library group asserts, new media
Many people assume that everything posted on the Internet is public domain, probably because our law used to protect published works only if they displayed the proper copyright notice upon publication. The law, however, has changed: neither publication nor a notice of any kind is required to protect works today. Simply putting the pen to the paper or in the electronic medium, putting the fingers to the save key creates a copyrighted work. Once expression is committed to a tangible medium (and computer media is considered tangible), copyright protection is automatic. So, postings of all kinds are protected the same as published printed works.
But that doesn’t really make sense. Some postings are as informal as a remark over coffee, others are as formal as a novel or a Constitution.
  Here is possibly useful primer on copymyths today:
1) "If it doesn't have a copyright notice, it's not copyrighted."
This was true in the past, but today almost all major nations follow the Berne copyright convention. For example, in the USA, almost everything created privately and originally after April 1, 1989 is copyrighted and protected whether it has a notice or not. The default you should assume for other people's works is that they are copyrighted and may not be copied unless you know otherwise. There are some old works that lost protection without notice, but frankly you should not risk it unless you know for sure.
I will try to post more on this, as it is definitely a developing area. It obviously matters if you are a instructor or teacher of any kind. However, one cannot copyright ideas, so the best solution is possibly to rephrase an idea in one’s own words, crediting the source. Keeping in mind that imitation is still the sincerest form of flattery.
Next: How has the Internet affected claims about defamation. How has it affected claims about blasphemy?

Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger.


Peter Black said...

Thanks Denyse, for shining a light on the dark, massive maze of internet and copyright matters.
This will be enlightening and helpful.~~+~~

The Sunflower Seeds Team said...

Copyright issues are always a confounding matter. Thanks for shedding a little light. Glad to say titles are not copyrighted either - like ideas, as you say. I had someone ask me if my Jailhouse Rock book - Arch book - rhyming scripture (Paul and Silas in Jail) was about Elvis Presley! I guess I wasn't the first to use that title! But I was glad there was not copyright on it, all the same. :)

Glynis said...

I see I signed in as Sunflower Seeds Team. Ha!

fudge4ever said...

Hi Denyse, this is certainly a murky issue. I wonder how much we can quote from an online source? I usually just quote a phrase or a sentence and then give credit, but can we quote an entire paragraph? Or would you know where I could find out more about this?
Pam Mytroen

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