Copyright issues in a digital world

from Kansas State University

Copyright law, which protects creative works, can be confusing in an environment that encourages electronic sharing. It is simple to find and copy online documents, but having the technical capability to accomplish that task does not give the user the legal right to do so.

Simply giving credit to the originator — without obtaining reprint permission — is a copyright violation. For example:

• An office professional finds a current cartoon online and places it in a newsletter, with credit to the artist.

• A youth group downloads a popular song as background music for a video they produce and post on YouTube.

• A presenter shows a DVD of a television cooking program at a nutrition seminar.

• Each semester, a teacher makes copies of a downloaded book chapter to use as a handout for students.

• An agent copies a photo from the Web to use in a PowerPoint presentation.

Each instance could constitute a copyright infringement. Downloading or purchasing a copy of the original includes no right to re-use or redistribute it. A secondary user must receive written permission from the originator, publisher, or other legal copyright holder.