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Safe from Copyright Law

The beauty of the Internet is that copyright law doesn't apply. It's the perfect place for the free exchange of ideas. This week, I'll highlight some of the differences between the law of copyright in traditional media, like books, music, and movies, with the law on the Internet.

The Internet's like a vision from the sixties where people share information and thoughts freely without being concerned about selfish concepts like ownership. With a couple of clicks of your mouse, you can copy and paste information from any website and make your own website.

You can even get your graphics from other sites. It's all interlinked anyway. Your server, their server, it doesn't matter on the Web. When it all comes together as a web page, nobody will even know that your graphics weren't yours and that they came directly from somebody else's server.

The Internet lowers the barriers to creativity. For example, if your competitor has a well-done corporate brochure and it's in book form, you can't just change the name to your name and have a corporate brochure. If you did that, you would be infringing their copyright. Copyright law essentially forces you to reinvent the wheel. It's an incredible waste of economic resources!

This is not so on the Internet. If they put the brochure on the Internet, you can use it as your own. If you get creative, you don't even have to copy and paste it.

For example, if they have their company name as a graphic above their text, you might be able to get this to work. You could design your website so that when somebody types in YourCompanyName.com, it brings up your graphic and the text drawn directly from your competitor's server. You don't even have to waste hard drive space storing the text. Let their computer do the work.

Again, your server, their server, this is the Internet. It doesn't matter. Resources are shared and as you already probably know-nobody owns the Internet.

Clearly, the law couldn't be different. With ease with which copy and paste functions work, the law would be fighting a losing uphill struggle if it tried to enforce antiquated concepts of intellectual property ownership in this digital world.

Music and Video

Music downloads are already a big part of the Web world. With Apple's iPod, people are downloading away. Kids don't need boom boxes or a Walkman anymore. All they need now is a computer and an Internet connection. What's incredible is that all this music is free and without copyright restrictions.

We're seeing entire TV shows and movies available on the Internet for downloading at no cost. We don't need VCRs or movie theaters anymore because it's all free.

Well Not Quite

At about this point, some of you are scratching your head wondering if I've possibly lost my mind. Let's just summarize the point by saying that maybe I've made a misstatement or two.

Actually, I'm not sure that much of what I've said so far is true. Yet, the world that I've just pictured represents the logical culmination of the common misconception that copyright law doesn't apply on the Internet. Copyright law does apply in the online world. Really. It does. I'm not kidding this time.

It has to apply. If it didn't apply, the Internet would never reach it's potential. Businesses would have to be leery of posting content because they could lose it in my parodied world.

Sorry, but if you want artists to put their music on the Internet, you'll have to expect to pay for it. It only works if the Internet is a safe place for intellectual property. Few will risk posting or making intellectual property available if the Internet continues to be the Wild West.

It's going to take a combination of intellectual property law modifications and clarifications along with good technology to maximize the Internet as the nearly perfect means of sharing information and creativity. As is usually the case, the new technologies are getting there faster than the new laws.

These new technologies will help reduce the ability of pirates to steal content posted on the Internet. As these technologies mature, we'll see more content take to the Internet.

The Real Scoop

Copyright law applies on the Internet just as with any other media. Just a few examples of things protected on the Internet (using traditional language) include literary, musical and graphical works, as well as sound recordings and motion pictures.

In Internet terms, literary could be a doc file, musical could be a MP3 song, graphical could be a jpeg picture, and motion pictures an avi file. I'm sure you get the point.

Copyright protection for this article attaches the moment my fingers hit the keyboard-even before I do my once every five-minute save. (If once every five-minutes seems excessive, I would remind you that I work in Windows. Need I say more?)

Conceptually, the copyright attaches at the moment that the column exists in a tangible medium of expression. This means that in my head doesn't count, but that my monitor does.

It's copyrighted whether I put a copyright notice on it or not and I don't have to register it. Now, having said this, there are many good reasons for a copyright notice and registration. The short version is that you would have certain procedural advantages if you're ever forced to sue somebody for infringing your copyright.

One thing that is required for this article to be eligible for a copyright though is "originality." This requirement isn't stringent though. "Original" in the copyright sense of the word doesn't mean novel or unique and certainly doesn't mean a thought that's never been expressed. It just means that I didn't copy it from somebody else's work.

If it required true novelty, it would probably mean that I couldn't write an article about copyright that I could copyright. After all, since this is an article that covers only the basics of copyright law, it's probably fair to say every thought that I've covered has been covered somewhere before. It's just that this article expresses the thoughts in Mark Grossman's words.

(How many monkey's typing on how many keyboards for how many infinities, assuming that you could have more than one infinity, would it take before a monkey randomly typed this same article? Never mind. The question's just the symptom of a wandering mind and the mood that it takes to write the first half of this article as a reversal of reality.)

Back to the Beginning

Now, let's take the opening paragraphs of this article and rewrite them into reality.

The beauty of the Internet is that copyright law does apply. With intellectual property protections firmly in place, the Internet is the perfect place for the free exchange of ideas.

The development of Internet law reflects the decade of the 90's, which was the decade that the Internet truly entered our lives. This developing law reflects the unbridled capitalism of our contemporary culture and the high regard our society places on the right to own property and the right to protect that property from thievery.

While the technology may make it all too easy to steal intellectual property with a couple of clicks of your mouse, you do so at the risk of infringing somebody's copyright.

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