From the April, 1998 PC ALAMODE Magazine:
Copyright and
Copy-wrongs
by Susan Ives

Whether it's Gutenberg's printing press, the copy machine or the VCR, every technological innovation has played havoc with intellectual property rights. The Internet is no different. In cyberspace, you have access to millions of words, sounds and images. Who owns them? How can you use them? Who cares?

 The issue that will probably concern you most is copyright. Under the Copyright Act of 1976, items of expression, including literary, dramatic and musical works, graphical works, audio-visual works and sound recordings, are eligible for copyright protection as soon as they are fixed in tangible form. Everything on the Internet is in tangible form; this includes e-mail messages and postings to usenet newsgroups as well as the more obvious examples of web pages and software programs. As soon as you save a computer-generated document to a disk, it is in tangible form.

 A work becomes copyrighted as soon as it is in tangible form. No further action is necessary. It is presumed that a work is copyrighted unless the author specifically waives his or her rights. You will see this often in the Internet. Authors will state, for example: If you use this graphic, please contain a link to my home page or, This document may be reproduced for educational purposes only

It is customary, although not required in the United States, to add a copyright notice to a work. This also makes the owner eligible for certain types of damages if the copyright is infringed. A copyright notice consists of the word copyright, the year of copyright, the name of the copyright holder and the phrase All rights reserved. In some countries, the copyright symbol is also required. An example: Copyright© 1998 Susan Ives. All Rights Reserved. It is also possible, for a fee, to register a copyright with the copyright office; this provides the additional protection of being able to sue for punitive as well as actual damages.

 Certain items are excluded from copyright protection. They are ideas, facts, titles, names, short phrases and blank forms. Some of these, however, may enjoy the protection of being a registered trademark. These names and phrases will be indicated by the symbol ®. Another exception is the fair use doctrine, which gives permission to use small portions of copyrighted materials for review purposes.

 In general, you should treat everything on the Internet as if it were copyrighted. E-mail and usenet news postings are technically copyrighted by the persons writing the messages, not the persons receiving them. The catch phrase "you own your own words" explains this concisely. Do not assume that because something is on the Internet is in the public domain. Much of the information on the Internet is in flagrant violation of international copyright law. For example, there are sites that post song lyrics and recipes taken from published cookbooks: these are in violation.

 Owners of registered trademark can aggressive in protecting their identities. To be "foxed" is Internet slang being for being slapped with a lawsuit for violating trademark law. According to the Dummies Daily, the term originated when Twentieth-Century Fox sent letters threatening legal action to fan club sites that were carrying images from their TV programs. 

To find more information about copyright, search the World Wide Web for Intellectual Property Rights . This is a hot topic, and there is a considerable amount of information available. A good guide for the layperson can be found at http://www.benedict.com/fund.html.

Susan Ives is the President of Alamo PC.