Copy Right, Copy Left, Fair Use – Which Way To Go? (part 1)

published on February 11, 2014 | tagged in:

The Internet is an excellent source of information filled with content that can satisfy all types of users. From the trivial to the significant, plain text to dazzling multimedia, there is something for everyone. And if you seek it, you most likely will be able to find it, blog it, take it, share it, copy it, download it, and practically do whatever you want with it. The big question is, Do you have the right to use the content? Better yet, Do you have permission?

Intellectual Property and The Internet

If you post it, they will come. That’s the goal, right? When you publish something online, the goal is to get as many eyeballs to see it. Otherwise, you might as well stick to pen and paper and snail mail all the contacts you have on your Rolodex.

However, publishing and posting certain content like art, images, music, literature, film, and other creative work run the risk of being stolen or used outside of its original intent. For those who earn a living out of their creative output, this can be troublesome. Unlike tangible property that you can easily reproduce and peg a price tag to, creative work is intangible – intellectual property – that can easily be “stolen” or “pirated”.

What Is Intellectual Property and How Does the Internet Impact It?

Intellectual property (IP) refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce.

IP is protected in law by, for example, patents, copyright and trademarks, which enable people to earn recognition or financial benefit from what they invent or create. By striking the right balance between the interests of innovators and the wider public interest, the IP system aims to foster an environment in which creativity and innovation can flourish.

42. Digital technology enables the transmission and use of all of these protected materials in digital form over interactive networks.

Given the capabilities and characteristics of digital network technologies, e-commerce has had a tremendous impact on the system of copyright and related rights, and the scope of copyright and related rights in turn is affecting how e-commerce evolves. It is essential that legal rules are set and applied appropriately, to ensure that digital technology does not undermine the basic tenets of copyright and related rights.

From one perspective, the Internet has been described as “the world’s biggest copy machine.” [68]

Whereas earlier technologies such as photocopying and taping allow mechanical copying by individual consumers, they do so in limited quantities, requiring considerable time, and resulting in copies of lesser quality. Moreover, the copies are physically located in the same place as the person making the copy.

On the Internet, by contrast, one can make an unlimited number of copies, virtually instantaneously, without perceptible degradation in quality. [69] And these copies can be transmitted to locations around the world in a matter of minutes.

The result could be the disruption of traditional markets for the sale of copies of programs, art, books and movies. [70]

(source: World Intellectual Property Organization –

If you’ve ever created and publicly shared any of your creative work online, you want some form of protection. However, imposing specific restrictions as to the use of your work against possible abuse and misuse, aside from protecting yourself from being deprived of the income that can be derived from it, is not a guarantee nor is it a deterrent against extremely “resourceful” persons.

Once your work goes online and appears in the search engines, your right to your work is fair game. NOT FAIR! True, but many people still need to be educated as to how copyright works, how copy left operates, the scope and extent of fair use, and everything else pertaining to the use of digital property found on the Internet. Information consumers need to know that not all Google images are up for grabs.

The Right To Copy – Are You Entitled?

There was a time when hard-bound encyclopedias used to the main resource materials for research. People would flock to libraries or use their own personal encyclopedia collection to do research, photocopy pages, quote excerpts, and use whatever information needed. Attribution was usually made by adding footnote references in reports.

Fast forward to today where almost? everything is available online, accessible to anyone, as long as you had internet connection. You can download images, research papers, music, videos, software, etc. Photocopying in the digital age is as simple as a right-click. It’s that easy. But do you really have a right to copy absolutely anything available online?

Copyright – What you need to know

Copyright relates to artistic creations, such as books, music, paintings and sculptures, films and technology-based works such as computer programs and electronic databases.

In most European languages other than English, copyright is known as author’s rights. The expression copyright refers to the main act which, in respect of literary and artistic creations, may be made only by the author or with his authorization. That act is the making of copies of the work.

The expression author’s rights refers to the creator of the artistic work, its author. It thus underlines the fact, recognized in most laws, that the author has certain specific rights in his creation which only he can exercise (such as the right to prevent a distorted reproduction).

Other rights (such as the right to make copies) can be exercised by other persons, for example, a publisher who has obtained a license from the author.

(source: World Intellectual Property Organization –

Based on these guidelines, we can deduce that unless you obtain permission or a license to use anything that falls under “artistic creations”, simply put, you are not entitled to use it nor do you have the right to copy it.

Unlike protection of inventions, copyright law protects only the form of expression of ideas, not the ideas themselves. The creativity protected by copyright law is creativity in the choice and arrangement of words, musical notes, colors and shapes.

So copyright law protects the owner of property rights against those who copy or otherwise take and use the form in which the original work was expressed by the author.

The right of the copyright owner to prevent others from making copies of his works without his authorization is the most basic right protected by copyright legislation. Below are some of the basic rights of the copyright owner or what the rights owner of a work can prohibit or authorize:

  • reproduction of the work in various forms, such as printed publications or sound recordings
  • the distribution of copies
  • its public performance
  • its broadcasting or other communication to the public
  • its translation into other languages
  • its adaptation, such as a novel into a screenplay

However, the copyright owner may also abandon the exercise of the rights, wholly or partially. The owner may, for example, post copyright protected material on the Internet and leave it free for anybody to use, or may restrict the abandonment to non commercial use.

Some very impressive cooperation projects have been organized on a model where contributors abandon certain rights as described in the licensing terms adopted for the project, such as the General Public License (GPL).

They thereby leave their contributions free for others to use and to adapt, but with the condition that the subsequent users also adhere to the terms of the license. Such projects, including the open source movement, which specializes in creating computer programs, also build their business models on the existence of copyright protection, because otherwise they could not impose an obligation on subsequent users. (An excellent example of this is the open source software WordPress.)

(source: World Intellectual Property Organization –

More on this next time.

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