Copyright Issues and the Web

By Huffman, Stephanie; Gatlin-Watts, Rebecca et al. | Journal of Legal, Ethical and Regulatory Issues, January-July 2005 | Go to article overview

Copyright Issues and the Web


Huffman, Stephanie, Gatlin-Watts, Rebecca, Kordsmeier, William, Journal of Legal, Ethical and Regulatory Issues


ABSTRACT

The extensive use of the Internet for small business web sites has focused increased attention on issues relating to copyright law. "Copyright is the right to exclude, not to publish" (Field, 2002). United States copyright law envelops all forms of expression as long as the form is permanent (i.e. scribed on paper, recorded on tape, painted on canvas, or coded into a computer). International copyright law does not exist, but resides within each country. Survey results indicated that only 56.5 percent of respondents knew that cutting and pasting the source code of a setup from a web page is a copyright infringement. When asked if copying a page that does not have a copyright notice on it is a copyright infringement only 53.8 percent responded with the correct answers. Likewise, only 51.4 percent of respondents answered correctly when asked if sharing an image or background with friends violates copyright guidelines. Representatives from the construction industry scored significantly lower than did survey participants from other types of businesses. Small business owners should become more knowledgeable about copyright issues for web pages. If the business is cited for copyright violations, the owner will ultimately be held responsible.

INTRODUCTION

The advent of the Internet makes it imperative for all businesses, individuals, and institutions with web sites to develop an understanding of copyright laws. New works are created and shared widely on the Internet, which raise concerns about protecting owner rights. Additionally, using works created by others on the Internet further clouds the complex issue of Fair Use. With the passing of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and other new statutes, the application of Fair Use has become a complicated struggle.

One of the most popular segments of the Internet is the World Wide Web (Web for short), which contains millions of web pages. These web pages represent the creative work of Generation X and the palette and canvas for future generations. The virtually unlimited access to web pages generates several complex issues/questions pertaining to copyright and the Web. For example:

   Can you scan a photo or graphic and duplicate it on your web page
   if someone else created it? Is it legal to include sound clips from
   your favorite song or musical score on your web page? An image or
   background catches your attention while viewing another web page;
   can you download, save, and use it on your web page?

Are you permitted to cut and paste the source code of a web page not created by you? Determining whether you have violated copyright law rests on the answers to these questions. Often we infringe upon someone else's rights, when we do not think that we have.

COPYRIGHT BASICS

"Copyright is the right to exclude, not to publish" (Field, 2002). United States copyright law envelops all forms of expression as long as the form is permanent (i.e. scribed on paper, recorded on tape, painted on canvas, or coded into a computer). An idea in one's head is not protected by copyright law, but if it is written down, recorded, or put in some durable format, the idea is protected (Simpson, 2001). The copyright notice or symbol does not have to be present for the item to be protected by law. The cardinal rule in regard to copyright is that the owner reserves any right not expressly granted on or in the work (Gatlin-Watts, et. al. 1997).

Any work not protected by copyright is considered public domain. Public domain refers to materials for which copyright has been abandoned or expired (O'Mahoney, 2002). Copyright law does not protect materials created by the federal government. Items created by the Federal Government are considered to be public domain. Anyone may use materials classified as public domain. If desired, the author of a work can register it with the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress. …

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