Saturday, March 23, 2013

I See What You Did There

One of My Works in Progress
By JccKeith

Normally I write a lyric review on Friday but recent events have altered this.  I was researching something earlier this week and discovered a few blogs on copyrights and watermarks and other such related information.

In the back of my mind somewhere, in my years on this fair planet, I have encountered the terms on prior occasions.  I was already somewhat familiar with copyright laws, piracy and the like.  I’ve seen enough movies and television shows with that same warning to let me know all about it.  I’ve also looked up copyrighting for writers.

Watermark was a new one.  I had seen it previously in reference to photos and artwork but dismissed it as I wasn’t posting artwork online at the time.  Now that I do post my original work online, I am more interested.  I understand that watermarking your work does not guarantee it won’t be stolen but then neither does copyrighting.  It just makes it more difficult for those wishing to steal it or use it without giving you credit for your work.

Basically, copyrighting, watermarking and name branding are all similar in function.  Name branding is a little different in that it identifies you or your product as unique.  It is the concept of creating an image that people can readily identify and that has authority in some way or commands respect.  Watermarking is more about labeling something as your work.  Copyrighting is the act of legally protecting your original work or ideas

Singing the Blues - One of My
In today’s technologically superior world, thievery, piracy and outright stealing of ideas is common.  It is far too easy to edit out a watermark.  It is simple to copy and paste pictures that you have no rights to share.  Many do not realize they are even infringing on someone else’s rights to original photos or artwork.  There is a vast amount of confusion over the term public domain.

Some people think once pictures, videos or other works are posted on the internet they are officially in the public domain.  Wikipedia defines public domain as those works whose “intellectual property rights have expired, been forfeited or are inapplicable.”  Many believe that if a work is publically available it is public domain.  This is not true. 

Only things unavailable for private ownership or which are not privately owned through copyright or protected by law of some type are public domain.  People should be aware of the facts.  Rights and laws of ownership or protected status vary by country and are country based.  What this means is that just because something is fair game in one country doesn’t mean it is so in all countries.  A work may be public domain in one country and be protected under ownership in others.

So what does all of this mean for those wishing to use other people’s works?  First off, the most simple aspect of trademark, copyright, patents and otherwise legally protected statuses is that when using or quoting or citing someone else’s work, credit must always be given to the creator of the work.

Actual public domain works can be used for derivative works without permission.  This means that you could for example make up a parody of the nursery rhyme Hey Diddle Diddle and publish it without having any permission at all from anyone.  You would have to give credit for using the exact nursery rhyme but not your parody.  A parody is a derivative work.  Analysis, translations and otherwise altered versions of a work are all derivatives.

A Sketch of My Daughter
When She Was Young
Works owned through trademarks, copyrights, etc. cannot be reproduced or used for derivative works without permission from those owning the rights.  An example would be that you can’t publicly publish a translation of a Stephen King novel without permission.

  • How do you know if something is privately owned?  The simple definition is that ideas cannot be privately owned, they are ineligible for copyright.  So you can’t say you invented the concept of Peace and copyright it.  Peace is an idea.  You can copyright a written work, a song, a movie, a show, a piece of art – about Peace but not the idea itself.

  • Government works are excluded from copyright law.  They are public domain.  Now how does that make sense given that many government’s documents are classified, unavailable to the public, hidden or concealed in some way?  Well that is a whole separate issue but generally speaking, government works are fair game unless protected through laws or concessions outside of copyrights.

  • Works published before 1923 are public domain.  This seems simple enough but it too has caveats.  Some works never fully become public domain. The Authorized King James version of the Bible is an example.  It is protected by the rights of the crown.  Other works have been given special allowances for copyright.

  • Works published in 1923 or after may still be protected under copyright if the copyright was renewed.  Not all copyrights are renewed at which point the work enters public domain.  A law passed in 1998 changed the copyright renewal period. Those works renewed had their copyrights extended for another 20 years.  The period of a copyright is usually 20 years. 

  • Works created after 1977 are protected for 70 years after the author’s death or 95 years after creation in the case of works for hire.

Sketch of Young Boy
With Couple of Kittens
There are also several websites you can visit to determine if the work you are publishing, sharing, etc. is privately owned.  You can visit the US Patent and Trademark Office website and do a search. 

You can conduct a search for copyright information on the Copyright website

There are also several sites providing searches of public domain. 

The rules and regulations on copyright infringement are relatively severe these days.  It has become such a problem, people stealing the works of others, that it has been deemed necessary to crack down on offenders.  People are being given prison sentences over theft of copyrighted material.

Morally speaking, it may not seem like a big deal to illegally download a song from some distant, billionaire record label or rock star.  They have plenty of money and you don’t so why not?  It may seem like no big deal to copy a story for inspiration from a public website and use it on your website.  It may seem like no big deal to copy and paste some artwork from a website.  I mean really, if they don’t go to the trouble of preventing you from doing so then it’s alright.

The problem is, at what point do you draw the line?  If it were your work someone stole and posted on their website without giving you credit – would you be so forgiving?  Would you look the other way if your artwork that you painstakingly painted or sculpted were copied or photographed and printed out for anyone to have without giving you credit financially or artistically?  What if it were your precious novel you spent years writing?

One of My Old Tree Frog
I understand the whole idea that many people have of sharing music and movies with friends.  They copy these things and hand them out without paying any money to those who own the music or movies.  People don’t see those owning the rights as personal.  The right’s holders are just distant corporations or people who seem unreal.  Everyone should be entitled to any music, movies, television shows, artwork, written works or whatever they wish to have.  The world should be more open, right?

I bring up the reason behind piracy and theft of original works for one reason.  It isn’t just about the money.  Sure writer’s make their living by selling their books to each person who reads them.  Writer’s don’t make money when only one book is bought and then copied and handed out to anyone who wants to read it for free.  Music labels don’t make money when songs are treated the same way. 

It is about credit. Money is one from of giving credit where credit is due but it is by no means the only way.  No one wants their original work to be passed around and not be given credit for its creation.  I personally post my artwork on my blog to go along with my show Rogue Mission.  I don’t watermark it.  I don’t do that thing that prevents people from copying and pasting it elsewhere. I post a disclaimer saying the artwork is my original work and copyrighted by me.

If people steal it, so be it, it is bound to happen.  The problem I have is that people steal it, or copy and paste it without any malevolent intentions and don’t give me credit for my work.  I suppose I could consider this posting of artwork as a donation to the world.  I could maybe write it off on my taxes next year as a charitable donation.  I could deduct the price I might have charged if I had sold the work to someone.

I won’t of course, write it off on my taxes.  Frankly, the government is petty about its money and I don’t need an audit.  What I will do is simply ask those reading this to think the next time they copy and paste.  Think the next time you illegally download music or a movie.  Think before you beat up that nerdy kid on the playground and take his homework to claim as your own.  Give credit where credit is due.

**All of the artwork in this post is my original work.  They have not been reproduced anywhere else nor have they ever been seen by anyone other than visitors to my house who may have looked through my sketch books or who paid attention to the paintings I had set up to dry in my downstairs**

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