Copyright Defined

Copyright is the legal protection given to all creators of original writing, art, photographs, graphics, music, plays, and any other intellectual work. Only the original creator has the right to copy their work, distribute copies of it, perform it, display it, or modify it for use in another way. The creator doesn't have to do anything to claim this right; it is automatic.

The Library of Congress has a neat video / slideshow that explains copyright at http://www.loc.gov/teachers/copyrightmystery/#

It is illegal for anyone else to copy or use another person's work product without the creator's written permission, and they can be taken to court by the original creator. The court may award damages to the complaining original creator of the work, meaning the guilty party will be required to pay the original creator for how much that person was hurt. Plus, they may even be sent to prison. To be sure of protection for their work, many people register it with the US Copyright Office. It is not necessary but makes their case stronger. Before using someone else's work, you must have their written permission. There are exceptions and limitations, however.

The Doctrine of Fair Use

One exception to the law allows people to copy the work of others for purposes of criticism, reporting the news, teaching, scholarship or research and to do so without it being considered copyright infringement. This is called the "Doctrine of Fair Use." The court judges whether it was used commercially (to make money for the copier), how creative the work really was, how much was copied, and how the use of it affected whether the original creator could use it to profit themselves. So, keep those limitations in mind when trying to take advantage of "fair use." Remember, you must still give credit to the original creator, even if the law allows "Fair Use," or it will be considered plagiarism.

Copyright Limitations

These laws do not apply to some types of materials such as those not put into a permanent form, commonly available information, public documents or works by the US government. Titles, phrases, slogans, or listings of ingredients aren't covered by copyright, but they could be protected under trademark law, if they've been registered with the trademark office.

The information above was obtained from the Copyright Kids web site at http://www.copyrightkids.org/cbasicsframes.htm.

Coping with Copyrights

If you want to use someone else's photographs, art, writing, or some other product of their thought and work, it is always best to respect their legal rights to control how it is used, especially if you want to use it commercially. Musicians and artists, authors and designers want to be able to sell their work to support themselves. So, you should contact them according to the instructions provided. If you've found the item by using a search engine, follow the links back to the original source or search for the author / artist on the description of the image or photo.

When using copyrighted materials for nonprofit or academic purposes, work may be used according to the "fair use" guidelines above, along with proper credit or citation.

Public Domain

Everyone is free to use works that are not eligible for copyright protection or have expired copyrights. They are not owned or controlled by anyone, so they are considered public property. The US Copyright Office defines it as follows. "The public domain is not a place. A work of authorship is in the “public domain” if it is no longer under copyright protection or if it failed to meet the requirements for copyright protection. Works in the public domain may be used freely without the permission of the former copyright owner."

Here are some sources:
The U.S. Government http://www.usa.gov/Topics/Graphics.shtml
The National Archives http://www.archives.gov/
The National Digital Library of nature photography http://digitalmedia.fws.gov/
Federal Government Public Domain Images http://stellar-one.com/public/us_federal_government_public_domain_images.htm
PD Images http://www.pdimages.com/

Creative Commons

Someone had the bright idea that creative people might like a way to share their work under a more structured way that allows for a range of permissions being granted. The creator still has copyright privileges but others can copy and distribute the work if they give the creator proper credit and limit its use to specific terms. By selecting the terms they want to apply to their work, they customize a license that they grant to others. That way, their work gains publicity without losing total control.

When searching for creative work, people can go to the Creative Commons web site and search for materials that may have been labeled with a Creative Commons license. Try the Creative Commons Search at http://search.creativecommons.org/.

Copyright Expiration

Old law required registration of copyrights with the US Copyright Office in order to claim control over your work, but that has changed. Copyrights expired at different times depending on whether it had a copyright notice attached, when the work was registered, etc. Because of the different laws in effect at different times, there can be confusion. For a good explanation, go to the About.com article on the subject at http://inventors.about.com/od/copyrights/a/expiration.htm.

Copyright Resources

Digital Ethics

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http://www.pleasedontcheat.com/index.html

Common Craft Video

Common Craft produced a video about copyright and creative commons. It explains the basics of copyright law and how creative commons licensing works.