The Long Arm of Copyright Law

By Dev Zaborav, ITworld |  Opinion

When the subject of copyright comes up, especially in relation to the
Internet, many people assume that copyright only pertains to copying
music, reverse-engineering code, or printing and distributing books
online. The truth is that copyright affects everyone who uses the
Internet in very powerful and sometimes surprising ways. It's important
to know what the laws are, so you can know what your rights are in a
given situation...or where you might be making a mistake.

US Code Title 17 is the fundamental authority on copyright, however,
it's long and confusing, and it was written a long time before the
Internet existed. The Internet has been a revolution in many ways, and a
lot of the laws on copyright are still being redefined in the milieu of
the 'Net. Many of the recent headlines about copyright have been about
mp3s and questions about source code. Information about the DMCA alone
could fill up a textbook, but ; this article won't go into depth on
those topics. Instead, I'll focus on the Internet as a predominantly
text medium and the corresponding issues that arise relative to that
medium.

What text is protected by copyright? Copyright law protects "works of
authorship." That's a nebulous term. US Code Title 17, Section 102
defines it as including literary works. This includes everything from
novels and newspaper articles to "computer software, software manuals,
training manuals," and even text ads. As US Code says, it's not
possible to copyright an idea, but it is possible to copyright the
expression of an idea. A crucial concept in the copyright code is the
understanding that a work of authorship is copyrighted from the moment
it is "fixed" -- that is, set "in a tangible medium...[that] is
sufficiently permanent or stable to permit it to be perceived...or
communicated for a period of more than transitory duration." In other
words, once it's written down or otherwise recorded such that it can be
communicated or shared. A letter can be copyrighted. A conversation
cannot (unless it is recorded). The important part is the idea that
works of authorship are copyrighted by default; no action needs to be
taken to copyright a work.

So anything that can be considered a work of authorship is copyrighted.
What rights does 'copyright' convey, then?

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