Copyright Law in Cyberspace
The proliferation of the Internet has brought about a host of questions and problems for copyright owners and for the millions of individuals who view, download, upload, and transmit works subject to copyright. Because the vast growth of the Internet is a relatively recent phenomenon, copyright law in cyberspace is still in a state of development. Yet basic copyright principles form a good foundation from which to determine whether a particular use of copyrighted materials on the Internet does, or does not, violate the law.
How to Acquire Copyright Protection
To acquire copyright protection, a work must be:
The work is instantly protected by copyright once it meets these three requirements. An author doesn't need to file anything or to put the word copyright, or its symbol, anywhere on the work. Filing with the U.S. Copyright Office, however, provides additional protections.
What Does Copyright Protect?
Copyrights apply to literary, artistic, musical and other creative works, including books, stories, articles, poems, drawings, photographs, computer programs and images, movies and other audiovisual works, song lyrics, sculpture, architectural works, pantomimes and choreography, and sound recordings.
Copyright law protects a creative work for the life of the author or creator, plus 70 years. If there is more than one author, it extends for seventy years beyond the last surviving author. For a work for hire -- one produced on behalf of an employer -- the copyright is 95 years after publication, or 120 years after creation, whichever is shorter.
To determine whether one has violated another's copyright, one must first consider what rights a copyright protects. The most fundamental of these is the right to reproduce the work. The author also enjoys the exclusive rights to distribute the work, adapt or make derivative works from it, and publicly perform or display the work. Placing someone else's copyrighted work on your website may violate any or all of these rights.
Exceptions to Copyright Protection
How to Avoid Copyright Problems
The best way to avoid a copyright problem is to secure written permission to use the work from the copyright holder. Since copyright guards against unauthorized use, once the author consents to your use of a creative work -- article, photo, poem, etc.-- you are not violating the copyright. It's important, however, to secure the appropriate permission. An author who consents to a teacher photocopying from his manuscript for a class does not consent to the teacher's posting the work on the Internet, unless the agreement expressly includes that permission.
Because the potential for copyright violation is so great on the Internet, in 1998, Congress passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to clarify certain issues. The DMCA limits the liability of Internet service providers for copyright infringement on the part of their customers. But it also created prohibitions aimed at punishing persons who remove or alter copyright protections.
The ease with which information is copied and transferred on the Internet creates numerous ways to violate copyright laws. Just because many people violate those laws, knowingly or unknowingly, however, doesn't make the violation disappear. If you have copyright questions involving the Internet, consult with an experienced intellectual property attorney.