In the old days, the Power of the Press was a luxury reserved for those with a press. Today, anyone with a desktop computer and an Internet connection can become an electronic publisher. Before the Internet, any entrepreneur not only had to know the nuts and bolts of marketing, but they had to be aware of complex legal issues such as libel and copyright infringement. An unintentional mistake and you could be sued out of existence. Professionals understood that the Power of the Press carried with it great responsibility and legal risk.
If you are a website designer, or business owner, it is time to wake up to laws that have always applied to intellectual property in the real world. How much do you really know about copyright law? A copyright is a form of protection for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Dangerous myths about copyright law …
MYTH: If it doesn’t have a copyright notice, it’s not copyrighted.
FALSE. In the USA, almost everything created after April 1989 is copyrighted and protected whether it has a notice or not. The default you should assume for other people’s works is that they are copyrighted and may not be copied unless you know otherwise.
MYTH: It is okay to copy as long as you give proper credit to the author/artist.
FALSE. If you copy an original writing, graphic, song, or other work without permission, you are guilty of copyright infringement. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act [DMCA] restricts access to or distribution of copyrighted material. Violators may be subject to civil and criminal penalties.
MYTH: I goofed and used someone’s graphic on my web page without realizing that it is copyrighted, but I cannot be sued as long as it was an honest mistake.
FALSE. Ignorance of the law is no excuse. Copyright law does not care about your “intent”, only that you have infringed work of another.
MYTH: It is okay to use less than 10% of someone’s work.
FALSE. Although it may be permissible to use limited portions of a work for limited purposes, there is no rule permitting a certain percentage of the work to be reproduced, distributed, performed or translated.
MYTH: The work doesn’t show a copyright notice, so it is in the public domain and content can be used freely.
FALSE. A work has automatic copyright protection the moment it exists and in tangible form. While it is good practice to insert a copyright notice, it is not mandatory.
MYTH: If I don’t charge for it, it’s not a copyright violation.
FALSE. It is a violation even if you give it away — and there can be serious damages if you diminish commercial value of the property.
MYTH: It doesn’t hurt anybody and it’s free advertising.
FALSE. It Is up to the owner to decide if they want the free ads or not.
MYTH: I paid someone to create something for me so I own the copyright.
FALSE. If the content creator is on staff, and the work is created during their employment as part of their job, usually the employer owns the copyright. If, on the other hand, the content creator is an independent contractor, then the contractor may own the copyright unless there is something in writing transferring copyright to you.
MYTH: I copyrighted the name of my brand.
FALSE. Copyright protects original works of authorship, but a trademark protects words, phrases, symbols and logos that identify the source of the goods or services.
MYTH: I can mail myself a copy of my work to protect it [commonly known as “the poor man’s copyright”].
FALSE. There is no provision in copyright law granting any such protection and it not a substitute for registration.
MYTH: If I am Caught Infringing, I Will Just Stop.
FALSE: The penalties for copyright infringement can be severe, and the technology for catching offenders gets better all the time. The penalties for copyright infringement include both criminal and penalties.
The purpose of copyright law is to provide a commercial framework to ensure that artistic, intellectual or other works of value are fairly rewarded. The development of technology in general and the Internet in particular has dramatically increased the ease with which works are violated. In this environment, a number of misconceptions have become common currency. This article is intended as an introduction to copyright laws and is provided in good faith to gain a general understanding of the topic.
Andrew A. Gonzalez, Esq. is an experienced attorney with over 25 years in practice. He focuses attention on business and intellectual property matters. For more information, email email@example.com.