Information On Copyright Issues
This is by no means a definitive work on the use of copyrighted material. It is intended as a brief introduction for the purpose of providing you with some ground rules when dealing with copyrighted material. For more complete information, or to obtain the answers to specific questions, please contact the U.S. Copyright Office
Basically, copyright law states that, if you create something, be it in words, images or music, it belongs to you, and you have the right to control what happens to it and who benefits from it. Your creation must be in tangible form--that is, accessible to more than one person. This does not mean, however, that it must be written in print or that it must have been published. If your material is accessible with the aid of a machine or device (such as a computer) it is protected.
The material that is eligible for copyright protection ranges from works of literature (including technical articles and compilations of recipes) to architectural drawings. I will not deal here with recorded or other such works, as they are not relevant to this discussion.
As soon as you create something and write it down or save it to disk, it is protected, and considered to be your personal property. NO ONE has the right to use or benefit from that property without your explicit permission. However, certain uses of copyrighted material are permitted. Brief passages may be quoted for reviews, discussions, education or commentary. Factors determining whether or not material can be quoted without permission include:
(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;
(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in
relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
The distinction between "fair use" and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.
In short, when in doubt, get permission from the owner of the copyright before you quote. You can find out who owns the copyright by reading the copyright notice, if one is attached to the work in question. However, use of the copyright notice is no longer mandatory. If you wish to quote something, and you don't know who owns the copyright, you can request a search by the Copyright Office, for a fee.
When considering whether to quote some one's work, you should consider who, and how many, will read the material in question. If you are preparing a research paper to be read by one individual, you cannot effect the market value of the work. If, however, you are posting the material to a web site, or, for that matter, posting it on a mailing list, you are, in fact, publishing and what you quote will be read by hundreds of people. This COULD effect the market value of the work quoted, directly or indirectly.
When quoting from someone else's work, you must site the source of your quotation. You do this for 2 reasons. First, you are acknowledging that the quotation is someone else's work. Second, you are providing the information your reader will need to find the original source. Reference notes should include:
1. the last name, and first initial of each author. In the case of a compilation of the work of several authors, you can use the last name and first initial of the first, then Et. Al. this means something like Smith, M. and others.
2. the publisher, if any.
3. Date of publication or copyright.
4. Place of copyright.
5. Page number.
When quoting from material on a web site, use.
1. Name of the copyright owner.
2. date of the copyright.
3. web site address.
Copyright law is intended to protect the way in which an author expresses him/herself. It does not protect such things as lists of ingredients or raw facts. For example, if you say that there are 50 states in the United States of America, that statement is not eligible for copyright protection. What you say ABOUT those 50 states is, however.
You cannot copyright names, business names or pseudonyms. These can, however, be trademarked, which is another topic entirely.
You cannot copyright short phrases or slogans, although they can also be trademarked under certain circumstances.
If you have created something you wish to protect, you can, although by law you are already protected, choose to register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. To do this, you will need to fill out one of their forms and send a registration fee. You can obtain blank forms either by writing to the Copyright Office or download them from their web site.
While registering your work is not mandatory, it can help in the case of a dispute where you may have to prove date of authorship.
Copyright infringement is illegal, and can result in suit for damages. Since copyrighted material is intellectual property, which is the personal property of the owner, copyright disputes are settled in Civil court. For that reason, there are no specific fines or terms of imprisonment. However, copyright infringement can be VERY expensive for the offender.
While there is no "universal" or "international" copyright protection, the United States is a party in 2 accords, which effect work written and/or published in some foreign countries. If the work was created in a country which is a signatory to the Bern Accord, that work is probably protected. Additionally, the US. and the U.K. have a long-standing agreement concerning copyright protection. Just because something was written in another country, it is NOT automatically in the public domain.
There are numerous reSupplies on the Internet with information concerning these issues. For more information, please consult them.
Information provided by Shoshana Hathaway
One of the problems with Internet publishing is that copyright (and for that matter patent) rules vary in different countries around the world. Since the Internet is international, the potential for argument is enormous. You can't just assume that because you post from eg the US that US rules apply - they might not.
Pat Silver in Somerset, England
It only cost $20 and the correct form and two copies of the material to be copyrighted sent to the library of congress (i believe) to get a "real" copyright. Of course you want to be sure that you are not copyrighting something that is not your own work, and also pictures that contain someone other than your self or your work--unless you have permission from that person in writing.
$20 is the fee. The address to send everything to is on the form. This copyright is what you need if you are planning to protect your copyright.
For more information consult the U.S. Copyright Office
This page is edited and maintained by Linda Coffin
© 1998- Linda CoffinRevised: