[101 W2-L1] Copyright Infringement

Copyright infringement is the use of works protected by copyright law without permission, infringing certain exclusive legal rights granted to the copyright holder by the government, such as the right to reproduce, distribute, display or perform the protected work, or to make derivative works.

“Why is Copyright Infringement Considered Theft?”

Leonardo Da Vinci

From the paintings, sculptures, books, architecture, and music of ancient Rome and the Renaissance to today’s films, television shows, audiobooks, podcasts, and video games, creative men and women have used their time, knowledge, imagination, and unique skills to create great works of art and inventions that have changed our world.

Throughout most of history, these works were finite, there was only a single tangible (physical) copy of the work or it required a live performance in order to be enjoyed.

Monks spent years, even decades, copying books word by word with pen and ink. Music once required an entire orchestra to perform it, plays had to be performed live by actors in order to be enjoyed, and so on.

This scarcity (limited supply) increased the work’s value because not everyone could possess it or enjoy it at will.

These works of art took time, energy, skill/talent, and resources to create. How could a poor peasant boy named Leonardo from Florence, Italy get all of the things he would need to create works like the Mona Lisa, The Last Supper, and Vitruvian Man and still put food on the table and a roof over his head?

The answer was patronage.

Only the wealthy and affluent, both in ancient Roman times and in Leonardo’s day, could afford the resources it would take to feed, house, clothe, and pay an artist for the time it took to create their works. Once the terms of the contract were complete, the artist was then free to find another patron and create something else.

The industrial revolution, however, made patronage unnecessary. Machines and factories could cheaply copy most works by the hundreds or thousands in a short amount of time and the artist/patron business model evolved into a creator/manufacturer/distributor/retailer dynamic. This meant more people could know about the work, enjoy the work, and own the work at a fraction of the cost.

In the digital age, replicating a work can be done with the click of a button. But why is this considered stealing? What is actually being “stolen” if nothing physical is being taken from the creator?

As mentioned above, works of art take time, skill, energy, and resources to create. For another person to come along, click a button, and enjoy the fruits of a creator’s time and labor without ever contributing a thing to its creation is a theft of that time and labor, a benefit that has not been earned but simply taken.

Without the artist or creator, the work would not exist to be enjoyed, and an artist must benefit from their work or it becomes pointless for them to hone their skills and expend the time, energy, and resources to create that work. And without the most-skilled of creators, we would only have sub-par junk made by hacks to entertain us.

If this philosophical argument doesn’t convince you not to infringe, perhaps this will: There are plenty of sue-happy companies backed by an army of lawyers out there just waiting for you to use their stuff without permission. Some even make it their core business, pulling in more money suing people like you than they ever make from their actual content.
“I found it on the Internet”, “I didn’t see a Copyright symbol on it”, and “But I didn’t make any money from it” are not valid defenses. Neither is being poor. You can still be subpoenaed (ordered to come to court to defend yourself) and sued.

Avoid infringement all together by using “Copyleft” works instead.

What’s Copyleft? Glad you asked…

Creative Commons

Creative Commons and “Copyleft” Licenses

Copyright is a legal protection, granted and enforced by government, that allows a creator to retain certain rights over a creative work for a certain length of time. Current Copyright law sets this length of time at the creator’s lifetime plus 70 years after which the work is supposed to enter the Public Domain, meaning anyone can do anything they want with it without restriction. Some works that have entered the Public Domain are Dracula, Frankenstein, and Sherlock Holmes… which is why every few years you see a new movie or TV show with a different interpretation of these characters.

Copyleft refers to a type of license granted by the creator of a work wherein the creator permanently and irrevocably gives up some of their legal rights to the public so long as the terms of the license are met.

Copyleft licenses are designed to be viral so that anyone receiving a modified version of the work is also granted the same rights to copy, distribute, and modify it. In addition, the terms of the license may require that modified works include attribution citing the creators of the original work or that the work, modified or unmodified, not be used for commercial purposes (i.e. you can use it, copy it, distribute, and change it but you can’t make money from it).

The most popular of the Copyleft licenses is the Creative Commons (CC) which currently offers six versions of the Creative Commons License with visual symbols that quickly explain what the terms of the license are.

You can use the Creative Commons Search function to find Copyleft works for your projects.

How Mickey Mouse Destroyed The Public Domain


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