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Copyrights DO Exist on the Internet

Make Sure You Are Aware of the Copyrights For Everything on Your Website

Is the internet the Wild West or are there rules? The web has evolved very fast over the last few years. Companies see it as a serious advertising medium and conduit for information sharing. But something that still seems to cause confusion is content ownership. So, in my next few blog posts, I’m going to talk with you about copyrights.

One big question I hear often is, “When is it OK to copy content from such and such a source?” The safe answer is never, but that’s not entirely accurate either. Instead, let’s look at how someone obtains copyright protection. To find that information, we look to the copyright.gov website.

Copyright protection subsists from the time the work is created in fixed form. The copyright in the work of authorship immediately becomes the property of the author who created the work. Only the author or those deriving their rights through the author can rightfully claim copyright. In the case of works made for hire, the employer and not the employee is considered to be the author.

Now we need to know how that applies to the web. In other words, what types of works can be protected by copyright? Again, we refer to copyright.gov.

Copyright protects “original works of authorship” that are fixed in a tangible form of expression. The fixation need not be directly perceptible so long as it may be communicated with the aid of a machine or device. Copyrightable works include the following categories:

  1. literary works
  2. musical works, including any accompanying words
  3. dramatic works, including any accompanying music
  4. pantomimes and choreographic works
  5. pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
  6. motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  7. sound recordings
  8. architectural works

These categories should be viewed broadly. For example, computer programs and most “compilations” may be registered as “literary works”; maps and architectural plans may be registered as “pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works.

Look back at the sentence that says “The fixation need not be directly perceptible so long as it may be communicated with the aid of a machine or device.” This statement, along with the one about computer programs, gives coverage to website content.

If you see an image, an article, software, video, audio, website design, logo or other original content online or offline, it is most likely copyrighted by the website owner, designer or author and should not be copied without permission.

There is one other note from the Copyright website that I believe is important – especially since the internet is not confined to the United States (and neither are your visitors or customers!).

There is no such thing as an “international copyright” that will automatically protect an author’s writings throughout the entire world. Protection against unauthorized use in a particular country depends, basically, on the national laws of that country. However, most countries do offer protection to foreign works under certain conditions, and these conditions have been greatly simplified by international copyright treaties and conventions. For further information and a list of countries that maintain copyright relations with the United States, see Circular 38a, International Copyright Relations of the United States.

In the next post, we will look at Fair Use.

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