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Copyright Infringements: Why They Are Widespread Online Research Paper

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Updated: Oct 14th, 2021

Introduction

We are now in the Internet age. Emails, websites, and blogs, among others, have become a way of life. With the advent of blogs and personal websites, self-publishing is now the norm. Anyone can now become an opinion shaper or a citizen journalist.

With the advent of the Internet come newer and greater challenges, particularly in the implementation of copyright law. Protection of one’s work from theft, and avoiding committing infringement are among the important things every user of the internet should be interested in.

In this paper, issues related to copyright will be discussed. Questions like what is copyright and what constitutes copyright infringement will be answered, and suggestions as to why international copyright laws do not work effectively in an online environment and what copyright owners can do their creations, particularly images, will be given.

At the end of the paper, it is hoped that the reader would have a clear understanding of what copyright is and of the other concepts related to copyright, as well as have a good grasp of the fact that there are things he can — and must — do to protect his works, although in a very limited way.

Copyright Explained

Copyright, symbolized by © (the letter C inside a circle), is a form of intellectual property (IP) protection for such materials such as literature, sound recordings, music, films and broadcasts, and images and artworks. A copyright gives the owner the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, perform, display, or license his or her work, as well as to produce or license derivatives of his or her work (Cornell University Law School). It is not a right given to the copyright owner to publish his or her work, but to exclude others from use of the work, and to define the parameters by which the work may be used. It is a right given to the copyright owner to enjoy the financial benefits of the work. Its very essence, broadly speaking, is the right to exclude all others is the essence of copyright (Kalanje, n.d.).

Authors or owners of the copyright may — and often do — sell their rights to their works to individuals or companies to market the works, as in the case of an author selling his work to a publisher. This is because of the cost that is entailed in the reproduction of their works and make them available for sale. Moreover, even with the advent of self-publishing, works published by certified publishers still enjoy more prestige than those that the author self-published. In return for the copyright, the publisher pays the author outright payment, and often but not always, royalty to the work, depending on the actual use of the work.

Although copyright is exclusive, meaning, it allows the copyright owner exclusive rights to decide how his or her work is used, copyright does have a time limit. According to relevant treaties of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the copyright to a creator’s work lasts until 50 years after his or her death, although different countries may set longer time limits. This time limit allows the creator of the work and his or her heirs to financially benefit from the work for a reasonable period of time. The WIPO (n.d.) adds that copyright protection also includes “moral rights, which involve the right to claim authorship of a work, and the right to oppose changes to it that could harm the creator’s reputation.”

Signatory countries to the Berne Convention do not require registration of work for it to become copyrighted. According to the Convention, a work is copyrighted by default upon its creation. However, some countries have copyright offices and laws that allow for the registration of works. Moreover, in some countries, registration can serve as prima facie evidence in court law in copyright disputes, particularly in the settlement of monetary awards. According to Kalanje (n.d.), registered work can fetch higher settlements than unregistered ones.

Copyright Law and the Internet

In order to respond to changes brought about by technological advancement, like the internet, which has posed and continues to post new challenges in protecting copyrights as new types of works are coming out and distribution and dissemination of works available on the internet have become faster and more complicated, the WIPO created two treaties in 1996 in Geneva (WIPO Website, n.d.).

The first treaty, the WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT), protects authors of literary and artistic works, such as original databases, writings and computer programs, musical works, audiovisual works, photographs, and images. The second treaty, the WIPO Performances, and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT), on the other hand, protects certain related rights (that is, rights related to copyright) of performers and phonogram producers. These two treaties are often referred to as Internet treaties (WIPO Website, n.d.).

According to the WIPO, both treaties require countries to set a framework of basic rights to give protection to the creators, allowing them to control the use and dissemination of their work and/or be compensated for the same. The treaties likewise ensure that the copyright owners are protected when their works are distributed through new technologies like the Internet. What’s important about these treaties is that they uphold that the copyright extends to the work’s digital form and creates online rights.

Limitations of Copyright

While copyright laws allow exclusive rights to the copyright owners with regards to the use and dissemination of their works, they provide certain limitations, besides the length of protection afforded to works. International copyright laws do give provision for “fair use.”

Fair use permits the use of other’s work without the copyright owner’s knowledge and approval provided that the use is fair and reasonable. This provision is not clear-cut. It is not defined what “fair” and “reasonable” actually are. However, there are some bases from which one could decide whether the use of material falls under the “fair use” clause of the copyright law.

According to Field (2006), uses that are for public interests such as criticism, education, or scholarship are allowed, particularly if the copied part is not substantial; however, if the use of the copyrighted material interferes with the copyright owner’s income, then it is already considered an infringement. Moreover, fair use means crediting original artists or authors. Even if a material is used for educational purposes, if the user (teacher or student) fails to credit the creator of the material, he or she may be found to have committed an infringement of copyright.

The copyright law likewise stipulates that using another person’s materials for commercial purposes is not allowed. Likewise, one cannot use another’s work, without explicit (usually written) permission, to suggest that the creator endorses some commercial product or idea.

Copyright Theft

Copyright theft or the unauthorized use of a work or material is very prevalent on the internet. This is one of the unique characteristics of the world wide web. Van Slyke and Golden, (1999) clearly explain the sentiment in this statement: “The Internet has been characterized as the largest threat to copyright since its inception. The Internet is awash in information, a lot of it with varying degrees of copyright protection. Copyrighted works on the Internet include news stories, software, novels, screenplays, graphics, pictures, Usenet messages, and even E-mail” (Van Slyke and Golden, (1999).

Indeed, the advent of computers, especially the internet, brought about enormous challenges in the implementation of copyright laws, as there are now newer and more sophisticated means of accessing, copying, and disseminating works, be they writings, images, or videos. Articles or video recordings copied and passed on as the theft’s original are no longer isolated cases; they are now slowly becoming the norm. One just needs to read blog posts to realize how widespread the problem has become. Even simple blog posts as rants and raves by a blogger are now being copied.

Articles from websites and blogs take only several clicks and a few seconds to copy and paste, and/or pass them on to others via email, or download and print them. The same is true with pictures and other multimedia content. This is because the internet hosts a whole wide range of systems and software that copy and distribute works without the permission nor the knowledge of the copyright owner. Music uploading and downloading networks such as Napster, Imeem, and the likes allow internet users to illegally upload and download musical recordings. Even video uploading sites like youtube contain materials that have been illegally posted by users who don’t have any regard for copyright infringement.

These are simply among the things that International copyright laws, though brilliantly worded, seem unable to stop.

Why International Laws Do Not Work in Many Instances

Despite the existence of copyright laws, and despite the fact that violators are fined heftily when they are found guilty of copyright infringement in court, copyright theft is still widespread, especially online. The reasons for this may be numerous and complicated, but for the purposes of this paper, several reasons will be tackled.

One reason that internet theft continues is that not everyone on the net knows about the provisions of copyright laws. Misconceptions about this legal concept abound. The following are some of the most common copyright misconceptions or myths:

  1. People tend to think that the lack of copyright notice means that the material is not copyrighted, and hence, may be copied (Jassin, 2000). This is of course wrong as, according to the Berne Convention discussed above, the material is copyrighted the moment it is created. Thus, it is always safe to assume that every material online is copyrighted, with or without the copyright notice. Unless it is explicitly indicated by the creator that his or her works are in the public domain, it is recommended that users who want to use a material would ask the owner for permission.
  2. People think that by giving credit to a work, they are not infringing on a copyright. This is not necessarily true. Copyright infringement is not the same as plagiarism. Copyright infringement is the illegal (without permission) use of someone else’s work; it is a civil case. Plagiarism, which is taking credit for someone else’s work, on the other hand, is an ethical issue (Jassin, 2000).
  3. People tend to think that it’s okay to use anything that’s online, the reason being that it’s being available online puts the work in the public domain, and hence, up for grabs. Bhiel (2006) explains that the online nature of work simply makes it available to the public, but it does not mean it is a public domain. Ordinary folks’ understanding of the concept of the public domain is being on the web or being publicly available. But in copyright law, the concept is used differently. According to WIPO, the phrase “public domain” as used in the copyright law refers to those works published way before the copyright law was established (like the works of Shakespeare) and those that are government-owned, particularly those by the United States. These public-domain works, in legal interpretation, may be used without permission.

There are a lot more other misconceptions about copyright law, but will not be discussed one by one in this paper.

Another reason that international copyright laws don’t work is that professional theft — those who may or may not know about the copyright laws but continue to steal materials for financial gain — do not respect copyright. This may be the biggest reason why copyright infringement is widespread.

The convenience that easy access to information and multimedia works accorded by the Internet to users is both a boon and a bane. It is a bane because it is also among the reasons that it is easy to steal materials. A few clicks over several seconds are already enough for the unscrupulous to get a copy of copyrighted material and do with it whatever devious plans he or she may have. There are numerous copying/downloading/uploading software on the Internet that allows users to copy, download, or upload materials as if their own, without permission from the copyright owner.

A fourth reason that infringement of copyright is widespread is the fact that copyright litigation is both costly and time-consuming — and thieves know this. Authors and artists who don’t have the money to take someone to court, or do not consider their work good enough to pursue the matter, may simply rant about their lost properties, but wouldn’t dream of doing anything drastic about it, like taking the offender to court.

Ways to Protect Creative Works Online

Knowledge of the copyright law, especially one’s rights as creator, and the ways by which his or her works can be copied is basically the initial step to hinder thieves from stealing his or her materials. The next step is to acknowledge the fact that one cannot completely protect his or her work online.

The only way he can stop online infringement of his or her work is by not making it publicly available in the first place. This sounds like a good idea. However, not putting one’s work online may not be wise in some situations. The Internet does provide vast opportunities for truly talented artists and authors, and exceptional works to get the exposure and recognition they deserve, which they may not get through the traditional route, or might take time for them to get, if ever.

These are among the very first things internet users must consider before posting their creative works online. Because, whether they like it or not, making their work publicly available entails risks, that is, the risk of it being stolen.

If, after due consideration, the author or artist decides to make his work available on the web (or if the works are already there), there are some steps he can do to discourage thieves from stealing his works.

The easiest way that the user can do this is to have a copyright statement on the page where his or her work appears. The copyright statement could set the parameters by which the work may be used (perhaps if they provide a link to the copyright owners’ site from which the work is downloaded or copied, acknowledge the author, and do not create derivative works from the said work). It should also include the copyright owner’s name, and an email to the other party could send a message to ask for the necessary permission.

While putting a copyright statement is not required, it lets internet users who simply do not know the technicalities of the copyright law realize that the material that they are about to copy or use is copyrighted. It may not scare away hard-core thieves, but since it is a commonly held myth that everything posted on the internet is public domain, it is safe to assume that a large number who steal other people’s works honestly do not know that what they are doing is a copyright infringement. And that number can be reduced by putting copyright notices.

Another easy thing that the author or artist can do to discourage copyright infringement, particularly with videos and images, is to put a copyright statement on the image itself. It could just be the word copyright or its symbol, the date of first publishing (or posting) of the work, and the copyright owner’s name.

Again, this method is enough to get the message across to users that are simply ignorant of the law. Among the tougher guys, however, this may not work, especially if the copyright statement is placed on the part of the image that could be edited out, and still, the image looks good. So the tip in putting copyright notice in images is to put it somewhere prominent. This can be done using photo editing programs like Photoshop, photo editor, and PhotoImpact. But, be warned that computer savvy thieves may be able to edit the copyrighted work, also using the programs enumerated above, thereby deleting the copyright mark.

Here are some methods of watermarking (putting copyright image) a picture or an image. There is a free program on the internet called Picture Shark (http:www.picture-shark.com) that allows the copyright owner of an image to put his or her logo and copyright on the image.

One strategy some bloggers and webmasters do is putting a “no right-click” script on the image. Using Javascript, webmasters can set that when someone rights click on a picture, nothing happens. Instead, a copyright message pops up, reminding the other person that the image is protected by copyright. This method, though again works for the simply copyright-ignorant internet users, may not work for professional thieves as there are quite a number of ways that a picture or an image can be downloaded, not just by right-clicking them (Of Zen and Computing Website, 2007).

Another method is putting a script called “stop image/bandwidth stealing” (http://www.davelozinski.com/scripts/bwp/). This script stops users from direct linking to a graphic or image. Moreover, it hides the name of the image, thus hiding it from being searchable in search engines.

Another method that can be employed is adding an overlay in their images with a second, transparent graphic. Doing this stops visitors from downloading the original image. When a visitor right-clicks on an image, he or she will see the image, but the moment he or she starts saving the image, nothing happens. All that the visitor downloaded is the second, transparent image, not the original. Less technical savvy visitors might choose not to download the image anymore, although this can still be defeated by taking a screenshot of an image, pasting it on a photo-editing program like Photoshop, and then cropping the desired image (Of Zen and Computing Website, 2007).

A less technical method of protecting an image online is setting the dimensions of the image very low, just enough for the image to look good online, but not enough for it to become useful or still beautiful when downloaded and printed. Like some of the methods described above, this may also be circumvented by good thieves.

For online users who put pictures on the web through picture hosting sites like Picturetrail and Flicker but don’t want their pictures used by others without proper protocol, it would be wise to set the image to private mode so that only family members and friends can view them.

The technical methods described above can affect the “user experience.” First, not everyone who right-clicks on an image has the intention of stealing the image. Putting that kind of script is like telling the user that by right-clicking, he or she is suspected of being a thief. Moreover, If the right-click option is disabled, users may not enjoy their experience on the site, and may not return.

Because webmasters and bloggers aim to have their sites read by as many people as possible, hoping that their visitors will keep returning, it may be a good idea for them to forget about the “all rights reserved” phrase and change it to “some rights reserved.” The Creative Commons License allows image creators, webmasters, and bloggers to let others use their work in a limited way, by defining the parameters of proper use.

Through the Creative Commons License, authors can decide if they would allow others to use their work provided that the borrowers give him or her proper credit and link to the work; and/or let others create derivatives of their work, and so on. Creative Commons License may work, such that the webmaster, blogger, and/or copyright owner retains his or her visitors, and possibly even benefit from the links and free advertisement the user’s website or blog provides.

Things One Can Do When His Work is Stolen

People who have found out that their work or works had been stolen face another dilemma: what to do with the offending party and how.

For bloggers who did not truly mean to steal, it would be enough to put a comment on their web page or send them an email, informing them that the work they have “borrowed” is copyrighted and that the copyright owner wishes that the contested work be removed from the offending party’s website, or simply acknowledge the copyright owner and provide a link back to the original work’s URL.

For professional thieves, however, this method may not be enough because these people, as mentioned above, do not respect copyright at all. In this instance, a tougher measure may be employed.

Steinmann (n.d.) gives the following tips:

  1. Search for the company that hosts the offending party’s website through whois lookup (http://www.geektools.com/whois.php). Get the violator’s website address, type it in the lookup search field. Self-hosted blogs and websites can be searched through lookup. Take note of the registrant’s DNS number, which is provided by the website’s hosting company (Steinmann, n.d.). For freely hosted blogs, like those that have WordPress or Blogspot extension in their URL, simply report the offending party to the webhost and the blog can be suspended for violation of copyright.
  2. “Contact the hosting and name server companies via e-mail, fax, telephone, or online contact form. This step may take some detective work, but it is well worth the time if you can get the violator’s website shut down” (Steinmann, n.d.).
  3. Determine who is financially compensating the violators. There is a vast possibility that the offender uses your work on a site that generates income through advertisements, like those powered by Google AdSense. Simply contact the website that powers the advertisements and report the violation. Financially-compensating sites like Adsense do not tolerate violation of copyright. Reporting the offending party can have his or her account suspended or even banned (Steinmann, n.d.).

Conclusion

As discussed above, the advent of the internet has posed greater challenges in the implementation of copyright law. The relative ease with which files can be copied, downloaded, modified, and then re-uploaded on the internet has made it so much easier for thieves to use and/or to pass on other people’s work as their own. Moreover, there are quite a number of copying, downloading, and uploading software and websites that show disregard for copyright laws. As long as software and programs like these abound on the internet, one cannot hope of putting online copyright infringement to rest.

There seem to be two kinds of copyright thieves on the internet: those who are simply ignorant of the laws on copyright, and those who completely disregard the law. The former is much easier to manage; it’s the latter that can be such a challenge to deal with.

In the foregoing discussions, the perimeters of copyright were discussed, as well as why the copyright law is disregarded. Misconceptions about international copyright law do play a big role in the widespread of file stealing online, especially among bloggers who do not think that what they are doing constitutes an infringement.

The methods discussed in the “Ways to Protect Creative Works Online” have a varying degree of effectivity. Copyright owners can decide which of the methods they want to use. But, one must bear in mind that the above techniques only make copying of files harder for other internet users; they cannot completely stop them from doing what they want to do with copyrighted materials. After all, there are so many ways by which others can disable whatever protections had been employed.

It seems that the modern era has entered a new age when it comes to copyright use. Authors and artists may now consider giving some rights to others to use and disseminate their works. It may be a wise course of action, as doing so will make both parties happy. The user can borrow one’s work provided he or she follows the restrictions set by the copyright owner; and the copyright owner, in turn, can enjoy links and exposure of his work — and him or her as an artist — on the borrower’s page. This seems far better than restricting all rights to the copyrighted material, only to discover it being used without any credit at all.

Still, the best way to prevent one’s work from being copied is not to make them available online. However, while putting works on the internet entails some risks, like being copied, not putting them on the web also denies the copyright owner to showcase his or her work, and promote himself.

As mentioned in the foregoing sections of this paper, the internet does provide a whole wide range of opportunities and exposure to the truly talented. Would the copyright owner want to have his work safe but miss out on such an opportunity? It is an important question that the author or artist alone can decide.

Bibliography

Biehl, Kathy. (2006). Bloggers Beware: Debunking Nine Copyright Myths of the Online World – Updated. Web.

Cornell University Law School. (n.d.) . Web.

Field, Thomas, Jr., G. (2006) Copyright on the Internet. Pierce Law: Franklin Pierce Law Center. Web.

Jassin, Lloyd J. (2000). . Copy Law Website. Web.

Kalanje, Christopher. (n.d.) Leveraging Intellectual Property: Beyond the Right to Exclude.’ Web.

Of Zen and Computing Website. (2007). How to Protect you Pictures and Photos on the Internet. Web.

Steinemann, Kathy. (n.d.) How To Protect Your Copyright on the Internet: Prevent Blatant Copyright Violations and Deal with Plagiarism. How to Do Things. Web.

UK Intellectual Property Office. 2006. What is IP. Web.

UK Intellectual Property Office. 2006. Benefits of Copyright. Web.

Van Slyke, Paul C. and Golden Philip T. (1999). Trend in Internet Litigation. Web.

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