The Mystery Behind the Copyright

Written By Christopher B. Skvarka

Nowadays the Internet is a wide-open source for information, entertainment, and communication. Many people believe that anything and everything go in cyberspace. I believed that myself, until becoming more informed. Sometimes, in a quest for knowledge and entertainment Internet users cross over a hidden line. Without proper knowledge, users unintentionally break the copyright laws that govern the Internet. Many myths have caused people to believe copyright laws do not apply to the Internet. However, copyright laws are in effect in today's cyberspace.

One of the biggest mistakes that people believe is that if a work has no copyright notice, it is not copyrighted. The correct form of a copyright notice is "Copyright or (date) by (author/owner)" (Templeton 1). Many people believe that if this notice is absent, they can post, use, or take any work on the Internet. Although no name can be copyrighted, the owner's work is (Templeton 2). In fact, everything from April 1, 1989 is copyrighted by the owner or author whether is has a notice or not. Most nations follow the same rules set up by the Berne copyright convention (Templeton 1). The Berne convention created uniform laws for worldwide works (Lussier 1). One of these laws was everything created privately and originally after April 1, 1989 is copyrighted. All Internet users must assume that the work is copyrighted, unless otherwise specified by the author.

Many works on the Internet are available for public use. However, the author of the work must have explicitly granted it to public domain. If a work is in public domain, granted by saying "I grant this to the public domain," anybody who stumbles upon it can use, take, or copy without giving credit to the owner (Templeton 1). Although, frequently a user can contact the author of the work and be granted permission to use it (Templeton 4). I did that through electronic-mail and received positive results. Requesting permission is not hard. Most times the owner quickly grants a user access and respects him or her more for asking. The author granted me a background graphic that I have since put into a page I have created (http://www.pitt.edu/~skvarka/active/ski/). Often, access to works on the Internet is granted easily and can avoid costly legal matters.

So how does that apply to Internet users? Internet users cannot scan material from periodicals and post them on the Internet. Users cannot transfer graphics or works, without the knowledge of the owner, and post them somewhere else on the Internet (Templeton 1). Technically, no one can post electronic-mail, wholly. A user can refer to a statement in an electronic-mail just as in any research paper. These acts can be prosecuted in a civil court, because "copyright law is civil law" (Templeton 3). The owner can sue for damages to his or her works, if major enough. These laws can be frightening, but often, nothing can be done about violations, because they happen every day. Copyright law on the Internet is a new region for the court system, though ten copies with a value of $2,500 were made a felony in the United States. To be safe, Internet users should just ask first to insure everyone's safety.

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Copyright 1996Chris Skvarkaskvarka+@pitt.edu