Only 5 ways to break copyright law online? Actually there is only one but that is too generic. Essentially breaking the law would be sharing something covered under copyright law when you should not. The five types of items that could be found on a website that I was thinking of when I came up with the title include text, images, videos, audio and program code.
I am not a lawyer (IANAL) so take most of this with a grain of salt. What prompted this latest entry was a takedown notice for an image for an article I wrote. It turned out to be a composite and evidently the image in the background I used was one someone else laid claim to.
It was something like this but not quite as extreme (Fig. 1). You might be able to recognize the type of figure on the left but it might be a little more difficult to figure out what the base was given the amount of manipulation to make this parody. The background is a photo of the Wright Brothers from the Library of Congress that was done back when copyright duration was a bit more sane. The owners of the rodent were a factor in getting those limits to where they are now.
It is actually composite works that I wanted to talk about because that is the business we are all in whether it is constructing a blog post for you to read or building the latest smartphone. This does get us into related areas like trademarks, patents and licensing but I'll try to limit the discussion to copyrights and licensing. That is challenging enough.
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Most are familiar with copyrights for the written word, images, videos and audio plus the mixture of these so we can group them all under the multimedia category. Copyright coverage begins when these items are created. That copyright notice on the printed page is a formalization. Many electronic multimedia formats provide a way to embed this information although few use it. Some devices like digital cameras and scanners can be set up to do this with each transaction.
This would be helpful when working with content because so much of it is readily available via the Internet. This includes software. Initially the creator has control over their content but licensing can be used to set the limits on how content can be redistributed. Eventually copyrights run out at which point the material would be in the public domain available for any use. This was the case with the background in the image above but my new creation has a much longer run. Of course, Penton gets control of this one since it is part of my job.
Open source software is one place where licensing and copyrights come together for the benefit of all. Platforms like Linux would not exist without a more liberal set of distribution rights. Linux is covered by licenses like General Public License (GPL). GPL tends to be associated with software but it can pertain to hardware designs and other items as well.
For multimedia content, Creative Commons (CC) licensing is another open source approach. Quite a bit of content on Wikipedia is covered by CC. CC actually address a range of requirements with six distinct licenses that address use. It may require attribution to use the content, or not. It may be restrict commercial use, or not. It can address modification, or not.
Developers dealing with software need to consider licensing issues and even multimedia content issues since so many applications have user interfaces. For my encounter, it is a simple matter of changing a file on a server. For a company with a million devices in the field, having to change a background image or video could be costly.
For most people, it would be nice to make use of anything they find on the Internet but that is not the way things work. It is also a challenge to balance the rights and needs of those who create these items to gain benefit from providing them. The content on our site can be linked to, paraphrased, etc. but not replicated wholesale on another website or in other forms without meeting additional licensing terms. This is how many Internet businesses run and they do provide benefits to their users that would not be possible without the income from sources such as advertising.
These days, everyone needs to be educated about issues like copyrights because so much of what was once private and a single instance, such as a photograph, is now online for all to see, copy and redistribute.