Copyright Basics Essay

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Copyright Basics

Copyright law is designed and enacted to protect artists and other creators. Just as an inventor deserves to patent an invention, an artist deserves the right to own created material including but not limited to film, photography, music, and writing. Although copyright law in many cases ignores the rights of consumers to do as they please with materials they legally purchased, American federal and state statutes do the best they can to create a fair and balanced marketplace. Upon reviewing the United States Copyright statutes, the U.S. Copyright Office's "Copyright Basics" document, the American University Copyright School compendium of resources on copyright, and the American University copyright quiz, I have determined that I need to learn a little more about what is and is not legal behavior.

The answers to the quiz that I got right include basic issues related to plagiarism of academic sources. I must cite all authored material. When it comes to materials that enter the "public domain," I got wrong the answers related to how long the material must be in the public domain. I also did not understand the Fair Use clauses, and find this aspect of copyright law a little confusing. I also do not understand when I need to ask for permission vs. citing properly, and believe that some of these differences in how copyright law is applied can be detrimental to my own creative enterprise. The American University copyright school highlights many of the weaknesses inherent in copyright law, and how those laws are perceived by institutions like universities. I understand the university it protecting its own interests by avoiding costly lawsuits by the owners of the means of creative production. At the same time, there are some aspects of copyright law that are untenable in the digital age.

B. University Policies

Access to the university network and the resources contained therein is a "privilege not a right," according to the "Computer Use and Copyright Policy" document on the American University website. Students like me have a direct responsibility to maintain the integrity of the university databases and the contents of its digital storage systems. No illegal activities can take place on the University's domain, and that includes illegal file sharing.

Among the stipulations in the "Computer Use and Copyright Policy" document include preventing unauthorized access by refusing to give out my username and password to non-members. Of course, distributing viruses in the system is banned, as is changing or deleting someone else's files without express permission. The downloading of unauthorized and copyrighted materials using the school network and its hardware is covered in the "Computer Use and Copyright Policy." Persons who violate any of the clauses outlined in the "Computer Use and Copyright Policy" may incur severe consequences including criminal prosecution. Therefore, students like me must start taking seriously applicable copyright laws and university policies regarding copyright protection.

My using the software Vuze represents a clear and unequivocal violation of the terms of service and terms of use of the University's network. I admit that I suspected my actions would not be permissible, but did not realize that the university policies were as strict or as comprehensive as they are. Now that I read through the materials provided by the University's Copyright School, I can see where I went wrong by using Vuze on the University system and sharing files. I still believe that sharing files constitutes no ethical or moral problem, but I do understand that there are legal codes that make such behaviors anathema to university policy.

C1. Copyright Myths

Brad Templeton's "10 Big Myths About Copyright Explained" includes helpful information for discerning the difference between acceptable/legal use and illegal behavior. Most of the myths are intelligent and sensible, but a few are not. The most glaring and obvious ridiculous myth is Templeton's number 6, which reads: "If I make up my own stories, but base them on another work, my new work belongs to me." This is not a myth, and I will explain why.

Templeton claims that the law prevents the creation of derivative works of literature. Yet there are no works of literature that do not, in some way or another, reshape the themes, characters, and settings of what has been done before. There can be no protection against derivative works of literature because, as the Bible says, there is nothing new under the sun.

There is no real way to prevent derivation in literature, and it is impossible and unreasonable to even attempt to do so. It would be impossible to determine, for instance, whether a story reflects universal themes and characterization or whether a story is overtly stealing another person's work. Most of the movies about the Italian mafia contain similar characterizations, themes, and settings.
Yet no one would accuse any one of them of violating copyright. Shakespeare's tale of unrequited and tragic love in Romeo and Juliet has been told again and again, emerging in places as unlikely as the film Titanic. Yet no one would ever accuse Titanic of being plagiarized. There are countless examples in literature about themes, characters, settings, and motifs that are borrowed and manipulated to suit new generations of readers or new audiences. No literature is wholly original.

Moreover, Templeton claims that the exception for criticism and parody does not warrant author's permission. Templeton further claims that the exception for parody does not constitute a "loophole," when clearly it does. Parody and criticism must refer to the author, or else it would not be effective.

C2. Reflection paper on how illegal file sharing of music/movie files on the Internet affects the artists. How does it affect society? Yourself?

Illegal file sharing is a moral gray area. I appreciate the fact that the university is trying to prevent lawsuits. I also understand the fact that we as students have an obligation to follow the rules of our university. Now that I am familiar with those rules related to copyright and file sharing, I will be sure to avoid performing any such activities on the university network and its systems. Being selected to attend the Copyright School has been a real eye-opener in terms of revealing the serious nature of these types of crimes, and I do take this seriously even if I am critical of the underlying motives and reasoning behind copyright law.

Many artists condone, and some actively encourage, file sharing. This is because the Internet has opened up vast new means of marketing and distribution that empower the artist. Marketing and distribution were previously within the sole province of agents and managers, representing major media conglomerates who kept their own corporate interests at heart. Artists have received little compensation at times, and the ethical breaches of multimedia conglomerates like Columbia and Sony records are more important than those of individual file sharers like me. If I share a song or film that I enjoy, it is testimony to my appreciation of the artist's work. A smart artist understands this, and sees in file sharing an opportunity to expand an audience globally. The forward thinking and truly creative artist seizes the opportunity to encourage file sharing as a means of mass marketing and distribution. As for monetizing creative works, it happens in ways other than selling duplicate copies of material. For one, I still purchase music CDs and attend concerts of the bands I enjoy the most. Second, there is no substitute for seeing films in the theater and consumers will continue to do so in spite of also being able to download a torrent. Watching a film on a computer is not the same experience as viewing the same in a theater. Finally, the visual arts have thrived in spite of there being very few people in the world who actually purchase fine art. Many people visit museums, often for free. Viewing fine art is considered a right in this day and age, but no one would suggest that my viewing the Mona Lisa constitutes copyright infringement because I did not buy the painting.

Society benefits from many types of file sharing. File sharing creates a creative commons, in which individuals can develop personal tastes and share those tastes with others. Without file sharing, it would be nearly impossible to find out about new music. Corporate media markets the most insipid types of music, limiting public access to the truly good material that is out there. As a consumer, I have the right to learn about what is out there beyond what Sony and Columbia tell me what to listen to by their videos on MTV.

Copyright law protects not artists but major media conglomerates. File sharing can be viewed as a means of benefitting society by expanding the range of artistic material via the arts of sampling. An artist whose music is sampled by a DJ will invariably be flattered, because the sample constitutes a tribute of appreciation. Our generation's art form is mash-up. Like collage was when it first emerged into the art….....

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