Information Ethics — intellectual property rights

The post on cheating looks at  information ethics in terms of right versus wrong.  In this post, we’ll  look at information ethics from a legal as well as an ethical perspective.

Intellectual property rights are concerned with the ownership of created works.  Created works include, but are not limited to,  books, articles, music, movies, games, software, art,  and websites.  The owners of created works have certain rights unless s/he has signed away those rights.

Copyright is the most familiar of these rights.  Copyright is a legal concept.  The laws governing copyright vary from place to place and with different time periods.   In current U.S. law, the person who created the work automatically has copyright without registration or payment (this is a change from previous U.S. copyright laws.)

Under U.S. law, copyright holders have the right to determine how their work will be used, with the exception of fair use, which we’ll look at later.  Copyright holders may also assign, or give, their copyright to another person, or more commonly, the company or institution they work for.

Copyright infringement is the use of copyrighted work without the author’s permission.  Historically, this has been difficult to prove for books and other printed materials, although the web is changing that.  As with plagiarism, it is easier both to infringe copyright and to catch the infringers thanks to the web.     Most successful lawsuits these days are brought against those who use music and/or film without getting permission from the copyright holder.  The term piracy is often used when discussing copyright infringement of music, movies and software.

When you infringe copyright you are also usually guilty of plagiarism.  However, you can plagiarize works without infringing copyright.  For example:  most government documents are in the public domain, which means you don’t have to ask permission to use  the information in them.  However, copying the information without giving credit is still plagiarism.  (Caution:  some government documents are copyrighted.   Copyrighted works will generally say so – check the back side of the title page.)

You may not think of yourself as a copyright holder (or owner), but if you take photos, create art (and crafts!), write, etc.,  then you are.  If you post photos, art, writings, etc., online, you need to be  careful that you are not signing away your rights when you post on sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  Before you post, check out the terms of service.  Yes, terms of service are headache inducing, but Facebook, and more  recently Instagram, have included language in their terms of service that would allow them to use your works pretty much however they wish.  Public outcry forced both to back down, but they have not changed their terms of service. (Check out Facebook’s Terms of Service, especially Section 2, #1, last sentence.)

FAIR USE

Right about now you may be asking yourself  “how can I write a paper if I have to ask permission to use everything?”  The answer is fair use.  Fair Use  is a limitation on a copyright holder’s rights.  Thanks to fair use, you can quote brief passages from books, articles, etc., copy articles for personal use, make a mix list from music you own legally, use images and charts for educational purposes, etc.  YOU MUST STILL GIVE CREDIT or you  are guilty of plagiarism.

Fair use is generally limited to educational uses such as research papers, class presentations and art projects.  Most plays and movies presented on campus do not fall under fair use.  In most cases, you must purchase the right to present plays or movies for any group larger than a single class, and always if you charge admission (you could probably get away with asking for cans for the Food Bank for a movie shown at your religious institution of choice, but not much more).  Fair use may also apply to not-for-profit groups such as scouts and churches if the actual audience will be small.

General rules for fair use:

Things are more likely to fall under fair use if:

1.  Use is limited (for example:  one class)

2.  Only a small portion of a work is used

3.  The purpose is educational

Public Domain:  Works in the public domain  either are no longer covered by copyright or were never copyrighted (for example, many government publications.)  For research purposes, public domain means you can use large chunks of information without asking permission.  HOWEVER, you still must give credit or you are plagiarizing.

Copyright Expiration:  Copyright is granted for a specific period of time, which varies depending on the location and the most recent law.  In the U.S., current law says that all works created before January 1, 1923 are in the public domain.  CAUTION:  Some works, such as Huckleberry Finn or Pride and Prejudice,  that are out of copyright, may be published in new editions, in which some (for example, an introduction)  or all (for example, notes throughout the text)  of which may be protected by copyright.

Works created between 1924 and 1964 may or may not be protected by copyright.  You need to check each work to be sure.  Want to know more?  Check out the chart by Peter Hirtle of Cornell University.  (There’s a reason why intellectual property lawyers make a lot of money.)

REVIEW:

Plagiarism:  using materials without giving proper credit (= cheating = unethical)

Falsification:  giving incorrect information, especially when giving credit  (= cheating = unethical)

Copyright Infringement:  using too much copyrighted material without getting permission  (illegal)

Fair Use:  The ability to use a small amount of copyrighted material for educational, or other non-profit purposes, without getting permission – if you give proper credit.

Public Domain:  a work  is in the public domain if the copyright has expired OR if the work was never copyrighted.

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