© Virginia Montecino 1996
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This information is meant to be only a guide and not the last word in official copyright law.
Copyright and the Internet is still in a state of flux and many issues are not resolved.

Copyright and the Internet
"To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to
authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries."
(U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 8). (U.S. Copyright Office,
Library of Congress (http://lcweb.loc.gov/copyright/)

What is Copyright? 
Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (title 17, U.S. Code) to the authors of "original works of authorship" including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, architectural and certain other intellectual works.

***This protection is available to both published and unpublished works.

Material in the "public domain" is intellectual property that does not come under copyright laws.
Nearly all work before the 20th C. is not copyrighted.

What is Plagiarism? 
Plagiarism is the the act of stealing and passing off the ideas, words, or other intellectual property produced by another as one's own. For example, using someone else's words in a research paper without citing the source, is an act of plagiarism.

History of copyright:

  • First law enacted 1790.
  • 1976 copyright law followed international law, extending copyright for 50 years after death of the author/creator.
  • On October 27, 1998, President Clinton signed into law the "Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act," which extends the terms of almost all existing copyrights by 20 years, to provide copyrights in the United States the same protection afforded in Europe. The basic term of copyright protection, the life of the creator plus 50 years, has been increased to life plus 70 years. The term for "work for hire" has been extended from 75 to 95 years. 

How long does copyright last?

  • Works created on or after Jan 1978 - life of author + 70
  • Work for hire 95 years
The OWNER/manufacturer/creator[but not always the creator ] of the work CAN:
  • copy the work.
  • create derivative works based upon the work.
  • sell, rent, lease, lend copies of the work.
  • publicly perform literary, musical, dramatic, motion picture and other audiovisual works.
  • publicly perform sound recordings.
It is not necessary to have a notice of copyright (i.e.: © 1997 Jane Doe) for material to be copyright protected in the U.S.  Once something tangible is produced, text, graphics, music, video, etc., it is automatically copyrighted. Sound recordings and some other property use other copyright symbols.  Anyone can use the copyright symbol on her or his original work.

The Internet and Copyright:

"The Internet has been characterized as the largest threat to copyright since its inception. The Internet is awash in information, a lot of it with varying degrees of copyright protection. Copyrighted works on the Net include new s stories, software, novels, screenplays, graphics, pictures, Usenet messages and even email. In fact, the frightening reality is that almost everything on the Net is protected by copyright law. That can pose problems for the hapless surfer." ("The Copyright Web site" http://www.benedict.com/)

What is protected on the WWW?
    The unique underlying design of a Web page and its contents,  including:

  • links
  • original text
  • graphics
  • audio
  • video
  • html, vrml, other unique markup language sequences
  • List of Web sites compiled by an individual or organization
  • and all other unique elements that make up the original nature of the material.
When creating a Web page, you CAN:
  • Link to other Web sites. [However, some individuals and organizations have specific requirements when you link to their Web material. Check a site carefully to find such restrictions. It is wise to ask permission. You need to cite source, as you are required to do in a research paper, when quoting or paraphrasing material from other sources. How much you quote is limited.]
  • Use free graphics on your Web page. If the graphics are not advertised as "free" they should not be copied without permission.
When creating a Web page, you CANNOT:
  • Put the contents of another person's or organizations web site on your Web page
  • Copy and paste information together from various Internet sources to create "your own" document. [You CAN quote or paraphrase limited amounts, if you give credit to the original source and the location of the source. This same principle applies to print sources, of course.]
  • Incorporate other people's electronic material, such as e-mail, in your own document, without permission.
  • Forward someone's e-mail to another recipient without permission
  • Change the context of or edit someone else's digital correspondence in a way which changes the meaning
  • Copy and paste others' lists of resources on your own web page
  • Copy and paste logos, icons, and other graphics from other web sites to your web page (unless it is clearly advertised as "freeware." Shareware is not free).  Some organizations are happy to let you use their logos, with permission - it is free advertising.  But they want to know who is using it.  They might not approve of all sites who want to use their logo.
Many aspects of the issue of copyright and the Internet are still not resolved.  This information, however, should serve as a useful guide to help you avoid violation of copyright rules and the pitfalls of unknowingly plagiarizing someone else's material. When in doubt, please consult the official copyright rules and guidelines.

For more resources on this subject, see Copyright Resources (http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/cpyrght.htm)
© Virginia Montecino 1996

Virginia Montecino | montecin@gmu.edu
Home  | Education and Technology Resources