Monday, August 25, 2008

Tuesday Pet Peeve 08-26-08 Copyright Chaos

Hi everyone. In our last pet peeve Tuesday we covered the complexity of "terms of use" and how irritating they can be. Your comments were appreciated and I hope that you will continue to participate in our pet peeve Tuesdays. I guess I should do a pet peeve day about the way blogs are designed where I cannot respond to specific postings; but I do read and appreciate all of your comments.

If terms of use get under your skin, I think I can top that one with this week’s pet peeve. I thought that we would touch on false copyright claims...GRRRRR. Let me begin by saying I am not by any means an expert on the subject. However, I do believe that I have a better understanding of the basics than the average person. If you have visited our website (Digital Imagery Plus) then you are probably aware that we sell public domain image collections. In order to do so and not get the pants sued off of us; I had to explore the ever changing world of copyright.

As if this subject were not confusing enough on its own; lets throw in the millions of false copyright claims found throughout internet websites. You can see where this can get extremely complex and frustrating. I am going to give some very basic copyright facts in hopes of clearing up some of the enigma for my readers. This information is FACTS that have been taken directly from the government copyright circulars, and I may be mistaken; but I think these folks would have the scoop.

1. What Is Not Protected by Copyright?Several categories of material are generally not eligible for federal copyright protection. These include among others:
Works that have not been fixed in a tangible form of expression (for example, choreographic works that have not been notated or recorded, or improvisational speeches or performances that have not been written or recorded) Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; familiar symbols or designs; mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, or coloring; mere listings of ingredients or contents Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devices, as distinguished from a description, explanation, or illustration Works consisting entirely of information that is common property and containing no original authorship (for example: standard calendars, height and weight charts, tape measures and rulers, and lists or tables taken from public documents or other common sources)
2. Can a work that includes works in the public domain be copyrighted? Yes. However, the copyright protects only the original contributions added by the author.
3. How do I protect my idea?Copyright does not protect ideas, concepts, systems, or methods of doing something. You may express your ideas in writing or drawings and claim copyright in your description, but be aware that copyright will not protect the idea itself as revealed in your written or artistic work.
4. Before an infringement suit may be filed in court, registration is necessary for works of U.S. origin.

I have chosen the above four facts because I feel that they cover much of what the average person needs to know to stay out of trouble; as well as to make their own decisions concerning false claim to copyright that we so often run across here on the net.

I am going to try to quickly give you examples of the above in hopes that you will better understand the dos and don’ts. Lets use our own packages as an example for #2. We have what is termed a compilation copyright on our image packages. This means that we hold copyright on the collection as a whole and well we should. Endless hours go into both securing our images as well as compiling them. If you purchase and resell our package collection we can take you to court and win the suit with no litigation necessary; cut and dried, you have violated our copyright. However, our images are public domain images.

Copyright protects our collection as a whole NOT the images themselves. In other words I cannot keep you from reselling the individual images. Public domain means that the images belong to all of us and we (the public) can use these images for whatever purpose we choose. (For those of you that are curious, anything published prior to 1923 is automatically in the public domain!) We also have packages such as our scrapbook packages that are entirely our creations or those of other artists. These are protected fully by copyright as they were created solely from our imaginations and hard work. We fully own these images. If you use these for purposes other than what we have agreed to; then you have fully violated our copyright.

I included # 3 in this post, because I feel this statement would cover what I see happening in many forums concerning tutorials. Sorry if I step on any toes here, but I didnt create the laws. Bottom line - if you create a tutorial the tutorial itself is copyrighted at least as far as your actual text and expression; however the concept itself is not. Just as a list of ingredients for a recipe cannot be copyrighted; neither can a method of doing something. If there are files included that are creations of the writer then of course those files would be copyrighted; but NOT the method. I cannot use your files in my own creations without your permission, but I can create my own files to use. There are tons of tutorials with the following stipulation..I am the creator of this tutorial and you cannot use it for profit in any manner, blah, blah, blah.

This translates simply in my opinion. If you cannot legally claim copyright on the method, then you darned sure can't tell me that I can't profit from anything that I produce from following your instructions. This is where I bring # 4 into this scenario. If you feel that I have indeed infringed on your copyright then of course you can take me to court. However, your work must be legally registered with the copyright office in order to do so. Now contemplate the above information for a minute. I see three major roadblocks here for tutorial writers.

1. Go to the government copyright website and read what filing for copyright entails and you will quickly see that jumping through the loops can be both time consuming and expensive. The term "government red tape" wasn't coined for no reason.2. Attorneys are expensive. If you have ever hired a lawyer for even a small issue, you can understand why the thought of hiring one to fight a copyright infringement lawsuit frightens me.3. If you get past that huge retainer to an attorney, he/she is going to tell you that you have no case. You CANNOT copyright a method of doing something.

In other words, there are many on the net that are blowing smoke; and many more of us that are breathing it. My money is on the clearly stated guidelines above and I hope that I have made a few of our readers smile with this knowledge. You are now better armed to determine fact from fiction while you surf. By no means am I advocating true copyright infringement; but I know that millions on the net are claiming copyright when they have no legitimate leg to stand on. It can't be infringement if the claimant has no legal copyright claim. It took me a few years of research to figure that out, and hopefully I have saved you some time today by putting the truth out there.

I'm outta here-

Deb Adams


Anonymous said...

I think EVERY designer with a blog needs to read this!!!!!

Pink Ruff said...

Thank you for the great information; I think there is a lot of confusion out there and you have done a great job of explaining the issues.

LivE said...

thank you for clarifying a lot of issues about the copyright. next time someone asks about this, i'll refer them to your blog! :)