Copyright

Okay, you have all heard about copyright. And you have seen that © symbol, haven’t you? But here’s the surprise (at least to some people) … both do not give you a right to copy stuff. But what does it all mean? And how is my copyright relevant to you?

Find out more in this short FAQ:

What is this copyright you are talking about?

Copyright, in essence, “grants the creator of an original work exclusive rights to its use and distribution” (as Wikipedia says). Important words: creator, original, exclusive, use and distribution. If I write a text or draw a picture or take a photograph, I create an original work. And I have the exclusive right to it. The right to use it. Or to distribute it. Or to grant these rights to other people.

You have to register a copyright to have a copyright, right?

Wrong – copyright exists the moment somebody creates an original text or image. Automatically.

But you have to mark the text or image as being under copyright, don’tcha?

Nope … creating is enough, marking is optional. Copyright exists without it.

Well, how should I have known the text or image was under copyright if it was not marked?

You should simply assume that everything you see is under copyright. And if you really want to use it, it is up to you to find out who owns this right.

Man, that sucks … how long does this copyright hold, a year or so?

Think big. No, bigger. Copyright laws are different from country to country, but generally speaking a copyright expires seventy years after the creator has died. If lightning strikes me down the moment this article is published, you can use it without copyright infringement from January 1st, 2085. And every day I still breathe will extend this …

Aw, c’mon, it’s on the internet anyway, so it is in the public domain …

No, it isn’t – having published something is very different from putting something into the public domain.

But if people can already read it on the web for free, there is no harm done, right?

Interesting argument … and missing the point of copyright completely. Try it in court and a copyright lawyer will laugh all his way to the bank, I guess …

Yeah, but there is “fair use”, ain’t there?

“Fair use” is an undefined concept that isn’t even applicable in many countries. Generally speaking, taking a short excerpt from a text (a quote) to discuss it, with full attribution, is okay. Taking the same “quote” to use it on your site without attribution and without the okay of the creator is copyright infringement. Passing the quote off as your own work is stupidity … because somebody will find out and you’ll get burned in more ways than a really well-done steak …

So, if y’all are so hung up about this copyright thing, why do you make it so easy to copy and paste stuff, eh?

For the same reason bank security guards do not perform strip and cavity searches on every customer entering the premises. There are certain rules in a civilized society and generally they are understood by all but the most intellectually challenged. You don’t walk past a stall and swipe a few apples because the owner did not glue them down, do you?

Ah, but … if I cannot use any copyrighted stuff, that’ll infringe upon my right of free speech, that is censorship!

No, it isn’t. First of all your right of free speech only protects you from censorship by the state. And there is no absolute right to free speech anywhere in the world – breaking the laws is never protected by it. And by stealing my work (which ignoring copyright is) … you are breaking the law. And I’d like to add that I am all for free speech and expression of original ideas. Try having some yourself.

Yeah, right, whatever … so what’s the worst that can happen anyway?

That depends. It starts with getting a friendly letter pointing out that copyright was violated and a request to stop doing so. It might continue with a solicitor’s letter regarding the damages, especially if you made money by selling or distributing copyrighted material. Then there might be that moment when the copyright holder goes public, names and shames you, ruining your reputation as a reliable source. And if things go really bad for you, somebody may trace copyright violations in your academic work and you’ll be stripped of all titles … so, in a nutshell, you could end up paying a lot of money and losing your credibility.

But, but … I am giving you exposure!

I haven’t asked you for this “exposure”, have I? And have you heard of the struggling creative who died from too much exposure and too little pay?

Look, do you want to get published or not …?

Yes, I do … but on mutually acceptable terms, most of the time with fair pay that reflects the actual work done. That is not to say that I am totally averse to giving stuff away for a small fee, at times even for free. But I’ve never given stuff away to people who can’t be arsed to even ask politely.

Okay, I get it, you simply do not want to play ball, do you?

Yes, you got it – if we are going to play, we follow the rules. Of copyright. Not the rules you make up as we go along.

Fine, but I have one last question regarding copywrite …

Please stop right there. I have made it a principle not to enter into discussions of copyright with people who can’t spell copyright. If you can’t get that one basic, yet essential, word right, why should I bother trying to explain an abstract legal concept to you?