Why should you care about copyright?
As a new college student, you will soon realize that you are entering a phase of your educational life that will be vastly different from high school. College professors will be different from high school teachers and you will be provided with a less-structured atmosphere. The work assigned will be harder; there will be more of it; it will have to be completed in a shorter period of time; and most of it will have to be done outside of the classroom. Because of these differences, you must prepare yourself to be challenged and to become capable of mastering large amounts of difficult material in a short period of time. Since the assigned work will have to be completed in a responsible and independent manner, you may have to change your educational work ethic in order to take responsibility for your own learning and be academically successful.
Due to these added responsibilities, you may feel pressure in completing your work well and quickly. With the Internet providing an expansive source of information and the accessibility of a wide range of other sources for materials, it would be quite easy to just copy from these various sources and use them in an assignment. However, copying from these sources, seemingly convenient and unnoticeable, is very likely to be considered stealing, since you are taking someone else’s property without permission and could be depriving the creator of income or control to which he or she is entitled through copyright protection. Without regard to or knowledge of copyright restrictions, you may copy materials illegally or load software without licenses. You must abide by United States copyright laws so it is important to understand the basic guidelines about copyright so that you can be informed about how to choose and use materials. It is very possible to commit a copyright infringement and not even realize you have done so. By understanding the basics, you will be able to ask the right questions and benefit from your right to fair use of copyrighted materials and protect yourself and the university from legal actions.
What is copyright protection?
The United States Constitution establishes the basis for current copyright laws, as a way to promote science and the useful arts. The government believed that those who create an original expression in any medium need protection for their work so they can receive appropriate compensation for their intellectual effort. Copyright laws are based on the belief that anyone who creates an original, tangible work deserves to control the use of that work and to be compensated for that work, that compensation encourages more creative works, and that society as a whole benefits from the creative efforts of its members. Simply stated, it is believed that if people can make money from their copyrighted work, it is likely that more work will be created.
What exactly is a copyright? It is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States to any creator, such as an author, a composer, a playwright, a publisher, or a distributor, of original, published or unpublished, works to protect their right to be compensated and granting them certain exclusive rights to control how the work is used. This protection grants the creator a fairly substantial amount of control over his or her work. The owner of the copyright has the exclusive rights to reproduce, publish, sell, distribute, produce, alter, or adapt his or her work, perform or display the work publicly or prepare derivative works. The copyright owner also has the ability to grant these rights to others if he or she so chooses. In order for a work to qualify for copyright protection, it must (a) be an original idea that is put to use, (b) show minimal creativity, and (c) be in a fixed or tangible form, which can be just about anything. A work will be considered in a fixed form if it is set on paper, recorded on audio or video tape, saved to a computer disk, saved to a hard drive, in a database, posted to a bulletin board, or even on the Internet. Yes, the majority of works found on the Internet are also protected by copyright. Basically, if you can see it, hear it, and/or touch it, it is most likely protected. Works that qualify for copyright assume protection from the moment the works take tangible form, whether or not a copyright notice is attached or has been registered with the United States Copyright Office.
What is protected by copyright?
All computer software, like all other tangible, original work, is covered by copyright protection immediately upon creation. The three types of software covered by copyright are commercial software, which represents the majority of software purchased; shareware; and freeware. Commercial software and shareware licenses state that any modification of the software is not allowed; decompiling of the program code or developing a derivative work based on the software is not allowed without the permission of the copyright holder; and only one backup copy can be made, but cannot be used unless the original software fails or is destroyed. Freeware licenses state that any modification of the software is allowed and encouraged so long as credit is given to the original creator; decompiling of the program code is allowed without the explicit permission of the copyright holder; developing derivative works based on the software is allowed and encouraged with the condition that any derivative works must also be designated as freeware, meaning that you cannot modify or extend freeware and then sell it as commercial software or shareware; and copies can be made for both backup and distribution purposes but distribution cannot be for profit. The only software currently available that is not protected by copyright is software that the owner has given to the public domain, which is clearly labeled.
What is not protected by copyright?
Material not protected by copyright (or otherwise protected by trademark or patent) is available for use by anyone without consent through what is known as public domain. Works in the public domain belong to the public as a whole and do not require permission. Most of the works in the public domain are works that are not fixed in a tangible form of expression and works that the creator has freely granted to the public domain and works such as government documents that are not copyrighted. Although the Internet encourages a sense of shared information, it is not public domain. The Internet contains both copyrighted and public domain materials. You should always assume a work is copyrighted. Many public domain items announce on their front page that they are in the public domain. However, graphic images provided by “free” and “linkware” sites and stock photography are not public domain. You should always ask someone affiliated with these sites if the items they offer are public domain. If you are not absolutely sure that the material is in the public domain, the safest course is to assume the material is copyrighted and ask permission to use it.
Materials available in the public domain and not protected by copyright include ideas, procedures, and methods (although these three can be protected by a patent), facts, systems, underlying concepts or truths, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, and devices; titles, names, short phrases (these can be protected by a trademark if it is associated with a business), slogans (can be protected by a trademark), familiar symbols or designs, variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, or coloring, listings of ingredients or contents, words, blank forms, shapes both ordinary and unusual, useful designs (can be protected by a design patent), names of products or services, names of pseudonyms of individuals (including a pen name or stage name), names of businesses, organizations, or groups (including groups of performers), recipes, labels, or formulas (although text descriptions may be protected); Government works, such as judicial opinions, public ordinances, administrative rulings, and works created by government employees as part of their official responsibility; Works consisting entirely of information that is common property and contains no original authorship such as standard calendars, height and weight charts, tape measures and rulers, and lists or tables taken from public documents or other common sources; and works for which copyright has expired (materials prior to 1923 have entered the public domain).