May 4, 2003
MGT 251 / Extra Credit
Internet Copyright Laws
A student comes home to his dorm at the University of Scranton after a rough day of classes. With the quick internet connection provided on the school's network, the student makes a few clicks and logs into Morpheus, a program that enables music fans to download free music. Within a few minutes he is on his way to owning an unlimited amount of songs at no cost. Everything this student is doing is legal, right? Wrong. The downloaded music from the internet is copyrighted material. Today's internet is considered an "information superhighway," a device where anything from music, books, programs and information can be shared worldwide. Since billions of people have the ability to access the internet, the content of the internet can be difficult to regulate. One controversy which has risen because people can transmit and share information broadly via the internet is that of copyright infringement. Arguments over the rights to property on the internet have been heated. For example, Napster (similar to Morpheus) was sued for providing software that enabled internet users to download music at no cost. Since the internet is a device that is used worldwide, copyright laws should exist to protect people who own copyrights so their civil liberties are not infringed upon.
Because the internet is sometimes considered unregulated, users often assume that the law does not apply to its use. Widespread misuse of people's intellectual property via the internet occurs because of this belief, though anyone can access the internet. Since the
number of people who have the ability to access the internet is so high, laws that are made to protect people's publications in other media should also apply to protect them on the internet.
Copyrights that protect products can sometimes be confusing to understand. The simplest way to identify copyright infringement is to question if the copyright is handed over with the product. For example, if a person owns a compact disc and lets a friend borrow it, the compact disc is being passed along to the friend with the copyright. If the person duplicates the compact disc for the friend, the compact disc is handed over without the copyright of the original compact disc. The same is true for books, logos, and anything else that can carry a copyright.
An excerpt from Ann Okerson's article, "Who Owns Digital Works" (published in the magazine, "Scientific American"), clearly explains what types of property are protected under the United States copyright law:
"The most recent revision of the U.S. copyright law, made in 1978, is far more thorough than its predecessors. It protects creative works in general, including literature, music, drama, pantomime, choreography, pictorial, graphical and sculptural works, motion pictures and other audiovisual creations, sound recordings and architecture. (Patents and trademarks are governed by their own laws, as are trade secrets.) Copyright explicitly grants the owners of the expression of an idea the right to prevent anyone from making co copies of it, preparing derivative works, distributing the work, performing it or displaying it without permission"(Okerson paragraph 14).
The key is what type of works are protected by copyrights and the word
distribution. Many types of works that are protected by copyright can easily be found and downloaded on the internet. For example, music can be downloaded from Morpheus, or literary works can be found with the click of the search button on any search engine available on the internet.
How is downloading from the internet any different than other types of access, such as borrowing from a library? Many might consider borrowing from a library as infringing on copyright laws as well, since libraries purchase books and loan them out to the public. Why not let a person purchase...
Bibliography: Knowledge and Identity in the Electronic Age. Richard Fearer; McGraw-Hill, 1998. 124 131.
Who owns digital works. Scientific American Publication. Ann Okerson; October 13, 2002. 37-41.
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