What’s What: CopyRIGHT and CopyWRONG

You’ve seen it before – it’s one of the most powerful internationally recognized symbols that exists today. For those who aren’t familiar with the above icon, it’s known as the copyright symbol. It’s also the topic of this post.

It is my duty as a trained journalist and designer to write content and create art in a responsible and ethical manner. We live in an age where endless information can be procured instantly with the click of a mouse, tap of a stylus, or swipe of a finger. I’ve come to the conclusion that  the digital age and  subsequent information overload has contributed to a generation of people who are oblivious to the importance of design and intellectual property (whether it printed or online) rights.

In fact, last August New York Times journalist Trip Gabriel reported: “Plagiarism Lines Blur for Students in Digital Age.” The article can be found here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/02/education/02cheat.html. The rise in plagiarism on college campuses “suggest(s) that many students simply do not grasp that using words they did not write is a serious misdeed.” Teresa Fishman, director of the Clemson University’s Center for Academic Integrity, hit the nail on the head with her observation: “Now we have a whole generation of students who’ve grown up with information that just seems to be hanging out there in cyberspace and doesn’t seem to have an author […] It’s possible to believe this information is just out there for anyone to take.” The article further explores the “why” behind the increase in cheating. Rutgers University senior Sarah Brookover was interviewed for the piece. She works at the campus library recognizes “the differences between researching in the stacks and online.” Students who don’t “walk into a library” and “physically hold the article,” don’t get to experience the feeling of “this doesn’t belong to me.” Susan D. Blum, author and anthropologist at the University of Notre Dame has conducted thorough research on the topic and commented: “Our notion of authorship and originality was born, it flourished, and it may be waning.”

Well that’s a grim outlook, huh? I hope it’s not the case; and here’s my two cents: basic courses in finance, nutrition, civics, and ethics should be required to graduate high school. Just because you have access to information doesn’t mean you have the right to use that information.

The majority of content I post on this blog has been written, created, photographed, or drawn by myself. However, to be clear, a blog is literally a “web log” designed to be a forum where I reference and critique other people’s artwork, articles, websites, etc.  Given that, I also acknowledge that much of that material is probably copyrighted. How can I get away with that? The “fair use” doctrine – a.k.a Section 107 of the copyright law – frees me from being a criminal.

In the spirit of complete transparency, and as part of a larger effort to avoid any signs of impropriety, I will now define plagiarism, copyright infringement, and fair use exceptions.

Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary (http://www.merriam-webster.com/) clearly denotes plagiarizing as:

  • “(transitive verb) to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own; use (another’s production) without crediting the source”
  • “(intransitive verb) to commit literary theft; present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source” 

The U.S. Copyright Office http://www.copyright.gov/ generally defines copyright infringement as: “when a copyrighted work is reproduced, distributed, performed, publicly displayed, or made into a derivative work without the permission of the copyright owner.” The U.S. Copyright Office further defines “copyright” as “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, and certain other intellectual works. This protection is available to both published and unpublished works.” So how does this differ from “fair use?” 

The U.S. Copyright Office explains that there are “various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.” The law determines fairness by “considering” the following “four factors:”

    1. “The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes.”
    2. “The nature of the copyrighted work.”
    3. “The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole.”
    4. “The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work.”

Maintaining my blog – *formerly known as “Digital Sanchez Digest” – is a required for my IMD 105A class (while I was at AIW *edited 2012). The primary purpose of the blog is educational. I am not using a “substantial” amount of any specific piece of property and small use of said property will not negatively/positively effect the “market for the copyrighted work.”

Whew! Not that’s over with, I hope you learned a little something and continue to enjoy the rest of my posts.